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25 Partner Warehouse Literature- A to Z

Reservation Blues

by

Reservation Blues Cover

 

Synopses & Reviews

Please note that used books may not include additional media (study guides, CDs, DVDs, solutions manuals, etc.) as described in the publisher comments.

Publisher Comments:

"Many may remember the tale of Robert Johnson, the musician who sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads in exchange for being the best blues guitarist around.

What many may not know is that after this tragic deal in Mississippi, Johnson ended up in a small town on the Spokane Indian reservation in Washington state-at least that's how author Sherman Alexie tells it.

In his new book Reservation Blues, Alxie spins the fictional tale of Johnson's adventure at a new crossroads, this one in a small town called Wellpinit, Wash. It is here that he comes to seek out Big Mom, a local medicine woman, and, in so doing, leaves his famous guitar in the hands of misfit storyteller Thomas Builds-the-Fire.

Builds-the-Fire, brought back from Alexie's last book, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, takes up Johnson's magical guitar and, along with Victor Joseph, Junior Polatkin and two Flathead Indian sisters named Chess and Checkers, goes on to build a reservation blues band that takes the Northwest by storm...

As the band plays club after club, Alexie uses music as a crosscultural bridge, without compromising the cultural integrity of his characters. The band members seem to take on the gamut of problems faced by Indians on the reservation today, battling everything from alcoholism to violence, political corruption to sexual abuse.

Ghosts from the past, both personal and historical haunt the musicians, serving both to hold them back and urge them on. It would seem that the scars of abuse run deep." (The Commercial Appeal, June 11, 1995)

Review:

"Alexie mixes biting black humor, a healthy dose of magic, and sparkling lyricism to produce a remarkably powerful story with roots not only in Native American mythology, but also in the equally potent history of rock 'n' roll." Bill Ott, Booklist

Review:

"Hilarious but poignant, filled with enchantments yet dead-on accurate with regard to modern Indian life, this tour de force will leave readers wondering if Alexie himself hasn't made a deal with the Gentleman in order to do everything so well." Publishers Weekly

Synopsis:

Sherman Alexie has been hailed as “one of the best writers we have” (The Nation). Reservation Blues is his “irresistibly stunning debut novel” (San Francisco Chronicle). One day legendary bluesman Robert Johnson appears on the Spokane Indian reservation, in flight from the devil and presumed long dead. When he passes his enchanted instrument to Thomas-Builds-the-Fire—storyteller, misfit, and musician—a magical odyssey begins that will take them from reservation bars to small-town taverns, from the cement trails of Seattle to the concrete canyons of Manhattan. This is a fresh, luxuriantly comic tale of power, tragedy, and redemption among contemporary Native Americans.

Synopsis:

In this bestselling winner of the American Book Award, the life of Spokane Indian Thomas Builds-the-Fire irrevocably changes when blues legend Robert Johnson miraculously appears on his reservation and passes the misfit storyteller his enchanted guitar.

About the Author

Sherman J. Alexie, Jr., was born in October 1966. A Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian, he grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington, about 50 miles northwest of Spokane. Approximately 1,100 Spokane Tribal members live there. Alexie's father is a Coeur d'Alene Indian, and his mother is a Spokane Indian.

Born hydrocephalic, with water on the brain, Alexie underwent a brain operation at the age of 6 months and was not expected to survive. When he did beat the odds, doctors predicted he would live with severe mental retardation. Though he showed no signs of this, he suffered severe side effects, such as seizures and uncontrollable bed-wetting, throughout his childhood. In spite of all this, Alexie learned to read by age three, and devoured novels, such as John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, by age five. All these things ostracized him from his peers and he was often the brunt of other kids' jokes on the reservation.

As a teenager, after finding his mother's name written in a textbook he was assigned at the Wellpinit school, Alexie made a conscious decision to attend high school off the reservation in Reardan, WA, where he knew he would get a better education. At Reardan High he was "the only Indian...except for the school mascot." There he excelled academically and became a star player on the basketball team.

He graduated from Reardan High and went on to attend Gonzaga University in Spokane on scholarship in 1985. After two years at Gonzaga, he transferred to Washington State University (WSU) in Pullman.

Alexie planned to be a doctor until he "fainted three times in human anatomy class and needed a career change." That change was fueled when he stumbled into a poetry workshop at WSU. Encouraged by poetry teacher Alex Kuo, Alexie excelled at writing and realized he'd found his new career choice. Shortly after graduating in American Studies from WSU, Alexie received the Washington State Arts Commission Poetry Fellowship in 1991 and the National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship in 1992.

Not long after receiving his second fellowship, and just one year after he left WSU, two of his poetry collections - The Business of Fancydancing and I Would Steal Horses - were published. Alexie had a problem with alcohol that began soon after he started college at Gonzaga, but after learning that Hanging Loose Press agreed to publish The Business of Fancydancing, he immediately gave up drinking, at the age of 23, and has been sober ever since.

Alexie continued to write prolifically and his first collection of short stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, was published by Atlantic Monthly Press in 1993. For his collection he received a PEN/Hemingway Award for Best First Book of Fiction, and was awarded a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers' Award.

Alexie was named one of Granta's Best of Young American Novelists and won the Before Columbus Foundation's American Book Award and the Murray Morgan Prize for his first novel, Reservation Blues, published in 1995 by Atlantic Monthly Press. His second novel, Indian Killer, published in 1996, also by Atlantic Monthly Press, was named one of People's Best of Pages and a New York Times Notable Book.

Alexie occasionally does reading and stand-up performances with musician Jim Boyd, a Colville Indian. Alexie and Boyd also collaborated to record the album Reservation Blues, which contains the songs from the book of the same name. One of the Reservation Blues songs, "Small World" [WAV], also appeared on Talking Rain: Spoken Word & Music from the Pacific Northwest and Honor: A Benefit for the Honor the Earth Campaign. In 1996 Boyd and Alexie opened for the Indigo Girls at a concert to benefit the Honor the Earth Campaign.

In 1997, Alexie embarked on another artistic collaboration. Chris Eyre, a Cheyenne/Arapaho Indian, discovered Alexie's writing while doing graduate work at New York University's film school. Through a mutual friend, they agreed to collaborate on a film project inspired by Alexie's work.

The basis for the screenplay was "This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona," a short story from The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. Shadow Catcher Entertainment produced the film. Released as Smoke Signals at the Sundance Film Festival in January 1998, the movie won two awards: the Audience Award and the Filmmakers Trophy.

After success at Sundance, Smoke Signals found a distributor, Miramax Films, and was released in New York and Los Angeles on June 26 and across the country on July 3. In 1999 the film received a Christopher Award, an award presented to the creators of artistic works "which affirm the highest values of the human spirit." Alexie was also nominated for the Independent Feature Project/West 1999 Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay.

In the midst of releasing Smoke Signals, Alexie competed in his first World Heavyweight Poetry Bout competition in June 1998. He went upp agaaaaainst world champion Jimmy Santiago Baca and won the Bout, and then went on to win the title again over the next three years, becoming the first poet to hold the title for three and four consecutive years. He is the current reigning World Heavyweight Poetry Bout Champion.

Known for his exceptional humor and performance ability, Alexie made his stand-up debut at the Foolproof Northwest Comedy Festival in Seattle, WA, in April 1999, and was the featured performer at the Vancouver International Comedy Festival's opening night gala in July 1999.

In 1998, Alexie participated with seven others in the PBS Lehrer News Hour Dialogue on Race with President Clinton. The discussion was moderated by Jim Lehrer and originally aired on PBS on July 9, 1998.

In June 1999, The New Yorker acknowledged Alexie as one of the top writers for the 21st Century. He was one of twenty writers featured in the magazine's Summer Fiction Edition, "20 Writers for the 21st Century."

Alexie was a 1999 O. Henry Award juror, and was one of the judges for the 2000 inaugural PEN/Amazon.com Short Story Award. He was also a member of the 2000 Independent Spirit Awards Nominating Committee - the awards for independent film.

Alexie is the guest editor for the Winter 2000 issue of Ploughshares, a prestigious literary journal.

Alexie, who resides with his wife and two sons in Seattle, WA, has published 14 books to date, including his most recent collection of short stories, The Toughest Indian in the World, and his newly released poetry collection, One Stick Song.

Honors and Awards 1991 Washington State Arts Commission Poetry Fellowship

1992 National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship

1993 Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award Citation

1994 Lila Wallace-Readers Digest Writers' Award

1998 Tacoma Public Library Annual Literary Award

1998-2001 World Heavyweight Poetry Champion

Granta Magazine: Twenty Best American Novelists Under the Age of 40

The New Yorker 1999: 20 Writers for the 21st Century

1999 Honorary Degree from Columbia College, Chicago

2000 Honorary Degree from Seattle University

For The Business of Fancydancing:

New York Times Book Review: 1992 Notable Book of the Year

"Distances" - 1993 Bram Stoker Award Nominee

For I Would Steal Horses:

1992 Slipstream Chapbook Contest Winner

For The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven:

PEN/Hemingway Award: Best First Book of Fiction Citation Winner

Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers' Award

Washington State Governor's Writers Award

For Reservation Blues:

1996 Before Columbus Foundation: American Book Award

1996 Murray Morgan Prize

For Indian Killer:

1996 A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

1996 People Best of Pages

For Smoke Signals:

1998 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award

1999 Christopher Award

1999 Nomination for the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay

For The Toughest Indian in the World:

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

412Scott, February 4, 2012 (view all comments by 412Scott)
Next to works like Winter in the Blood or Ceremony, Alexie's scope keeps the same circular storytelling as most American Indian fiction but instead weaves a multitude of topics: blues music, the music industry, capitalism, Caucasian guilt, sexism, government and at least 10 other topics. This is both a feature and a fault of the novel. I do agree fully with the previous comment here about the shortcuts taken with the critique of Catholicism and the abuses so many have suffered at the hands of so many deeply flawed men that have fractured the public face and private trust of the Catholic Church. This novel could have kept both its social critiques, narrative overlaps, and welcome doses of humor and removed just a few loose motifs and themes. Instead, it stands certainly as an engaging 306 pages of American Indian fiction.
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Michelleyevshky, July 29, 2007 (view all comments by Michelleyevshky)
This is a review I have meant to write for a very long time. I am finally daring to do so.

I first read this book as a very young girl, underneath my covers with a flashlight. And then about a year ago I had the chance to see Sherman Alexie speak at a community college--I went on a whim, not connecting who he was, but while there I realized he was the writer of a great deal of excellent poetry I revere and this book, Reservation Blues, that I had loved and allowed myself to live in as a little girl.

Browsing the Goodwill book section a few weeks later I found an old copy of this book and snapped it up, a very happy book-lobster. I re-read it after 10 years.

I hated it this time around. It wasn't the writing, the writing was the same boggling mind-trail Alexie is so excellent at revving through. It was a single phrase that slashed at me, the sentence was attributed to Big Mom, the wise character, Watcher, and strange Savior of the book, aimed at Victor, a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a priest.

"...you should forgive the priest who hurt you when you were little...that poor man hasn't even forgiven himself yet."

I re-read that part and my mouth sort of fell open, and I felt betrayed by Alexie, who I felt didn't understand what he was doing when he wrote the book.

I realize that when someone writes a book they largely write for themselves and of their own experiences in a vicarious way. I am all too aware of how many Indians were raped by priests, and the deep anger alot of Indians have towards white and half-white people as a result of the genocides. I think the power of forgiveness is a wonderful tool for healing for SOME people. But not all.

I feel strange criticizing and hating this sentence. I want so badly back into the rest of the book, but am unable to step back in. I was locked out of his beautiful world with those words, because those words are used to hurt people in institutions of religion, used to silence and place the burden of guilt on victims of brutal sexual assault, and used to dumb down followers.

Forgiveness is a main theme in all of Alexie's writing, and I have come to expect this of him. I don't resent the theme as long as it is clearly separated from the abusive machinations of institution. Usually he manages. He fails here, slipping the theories in willy-nilly without a clue. I think he is trying to hit all the major problems Indians face in one book, and not having personally been raped in the church (which I am willing to state quantitatively based on the way he glibly throws around religious language and talks about Catholicism, a wonderful freedom that victims of CSA do not have) he fails here, and manages to pour salt on the wounds (albeit with such innocence and such a good heart that it hurts MORE for all its damned arrogant innocence).

Victor is not a well-fleshed out character and his abuse, his reactions to that abuse, is never delved into aside from the single event. There is no analyzation of his reactions. His "tough-guy" fasod mostly remains in place throughout, slipping to reveal the outlines of the soul beneath only a few times.

Alexie only seems to understand the full-on anger reaction to abuse, he doesn't understand the deep guilt that victims of CSA have, nor does he understand the type of pain in having a "safe" spirituality spout out a flat forgiveness line that rings in tune with the corporate rapists of religious institutions. (And so few are sorry. And if this priest were sorry, why didn't he try to make amends? Why didn't he pay for counseling? Why didn't he turn himself in? What's that? He cared about himself more? He had 60 more victims? He doesn't want to go to jail? He's narcissistic and can't stand the thought of not being God's right hand? Ah. Yes.)

Alexie had no right to fling these theories out in such disarray, in the mouth of someone looked up to as a God-figure. The character Big Mom fills is a vast one, so her dialogue had better be good. He was essentially speaking for God. Shame on him!

I generally mock reviews that say, "this book is bad because the theory is bad." Well, here I am, hating a book with excellent writing for bad theory.

Mr. Alexie, I like you and I'll make a deal here, I'll stay out of the sweat lodges and your spirituality if you'll stay away from my spirituality, and refrain from telling me my spiritual path.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780802141903
Author:
Alexie, Sherman
Publisher:
Grove Press
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
FICTION / Literary
Subject:
Native American Studies
Subject:
Indians of north america
Subject:
Spokane Indians.
Subject:
Washington (state)
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Publication Date:
20050231
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Language:
English
Pages:
320
Dimensions:
8.25 x 5.5 in 10 oz

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Reservation Blues Used Trade Paper
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$8.00 In Stock
Product details 320 pages Grove/Atlantic - English 9780802141903 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Alexie mixes biting black humor, a healthy dose of magic, and sparkling lyricism to produce a remarkably powerful story with roots not only in Native American mythology, but also in the equally potent history of rock 'n' roll."
"Review" by , "Hilarious but poignant, filled with enchantments yet dead-on accurate with regard to modern Indian life, this tour de force will leave readers wondering if Alexie himself hasn't made a deal with the Gentleman in order to do everything so well."
"Synopsis" by ,
Sherman Alexie has been hailed as “one of the best writers we have” (The Nation). Reservation Blues is his “irresistibly stunning debut novel” (San Francisco Chronicle). One day legendary bluesman Robert Johnson appears on the Spokane Indian reservation, in flight from the devil and presumed long dead. When he passes his enchanted instrument to Thomas-Builds-the-Fire—storyteller, misfit, and musician—a magical odyssey begins that will take them from reservation bars to small-town taverns, from the cement trails of Seattle to the concrete canyons of Manhattan. This is a fresh, luxuriantly comic tale of power, tragedy, and redemption among contemporary Native Americans.

"Synopsis" by , In this bestselling winner of the American Book Award, the life of Spokane Indian Thomas Builds-the-Fire irrevocably changes when blues legend Robert Johnson miraculously appears on his reservation and passes the misfit storyteller his enchanted guitar.
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