The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

ISBN: 0802141676
ISBN 13: 9780802141675
By: Sherman Alexie

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About this book

In this darkly comic short story collection, Sherman Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian, brilliantly weaves memory, fantasy, and stark realizxsm to paint a complex, grimly ironic portrait of life in and around the Spoke Indian Reservation. These 22 interlinked tales are narrated by characters raised on humiliation and government-issue cheese, and yet are filled with passion and affection, myth and dream. There is Victor, who as a nine-year-old crawled between his uncoscious parents hoping that the alcohol seeping through their skins might help him sleep. Thomas Builds-the-Fire, who tells his stories long after people stop listening, and Jimmy Many Horses, dying of cancer, who writes letters on stationary that reads "From the Death Bed of James Many Horses III," even though he actually writes them on his kitchen table. Against a backdrop of alcohol, car accidents, laughter, and basketball, Alexie depicts the distances between Indians and whites, reservation Indians and urban Indians, men and women,a dn most poetically, between modern Indians and the traditions of the past.

Reader's Thoughts


Love love love Sherman Alexie and the way he tells stories about the power of words. Great mix of black comedy and heart-wrenching, but never cloying, social commentary. Highly recommend his work if you've never read it before.


Sherman Alexi definitely has a different style from the basic writer. While not bad, those people who are very uppity about grammar and sentence structure may be put off by it. Although I'm an editor, I found I was able to look past the style since it wasn't over the top and added a certain feel to his work.Possibly one of the funniest pieces in this collection of short stories is "The Approximate Size of My Favorite Tumor." Although the topic is death, it's light-hearted and amusing and gives a different perspective on living life and laughter.Many of the other stories have less serious topics, but some are more "depressing," possibly because of their realism and the savage reality that life sucks. The book is filled with great "one liners" that are deep, amusing, or just strange. While not my favorite author, he's definitely someone I'll continue to add to my bookshelf.

Judith Shadford

I started it back in 2004 and got nowhere. I went to Rainier Writing Workshop and learned the art and necessity of forgetting to be a fast, compulsive reader, and became a close reader. I also learned of the world of Sherman Alexie and his amazing friend Jess Walter. I am now embarked on an Alexie marathon. But Fistfight first. What an astonishing, heartbreaking, heart-opening work. Of course, funny because one laughs when one is bleeding to death, or going down on the Titanic--there's always something hilarious. Alexie describes the life of the rez, of his family and their intensely intimate relationships that are so dysfunctional they make Norman Rockwell into an alien from Pluto. But he goes far beyond describing the Spokane Indians who live a few miles west, describing downtown Spokane, 10 minutes down the hill, he shapes unrelenting (mostly) loneliness and isolation. Then, for me, a miracle, of sorts, happened. I felt the mutual resonance from the aquifer that Jess Walters taps into, particularly in We Live in Water. Walters and Alexie go beyond ethnicity and cultural derivations, and describe the profound loneliness and isolation that we all know--if we'll grow quiet and admit it.


A tepid 3 stars for this collection. A friend at work is an Alexie fan, and when I came across this book for 50 cents at the library, I picked it up. None of the stories were bad, some were quite good, but I never connected with any of them emotionally, and too many felt self-consciously contrived.There were two moments of connection, however, that make me willing to read more Alexie and just pushed this volume into the 3-star range.The first one comes up in "Because My Father Always Said He Was the Only Indian Who Saw Jimi Hendrix Play 'The Star-Spangled Banner' at Woodstock," where Alexie writes: "'I guess. Your father just likes being alone more than he likes being with other people. Even me and you.'" (p. 34)The second connection occurred in "Witnesses, Secret and Not": "Anyway, there we were, my father and I, silent as hell while the car fancydanced across the ice. At age thirteen, nobody thinks they're going to die, so that wasn't my worry. But my father was forty-one and that's about the age that I figure a man starts to think about dying. Or starts to accept it as inevitable." (p. 213)


It was so hard for me to read this book with fresh eyes, given that I've seen the movie based on it several times (Smoke Signals). Without having seen the movie, I think I would have felt pretty ungrounded in these little snippets of stories, but I guess that's sort of the point. This isn't supposed to hang together in any logical order; it reads more like an ethnography than a novel, with nostalgic musings on alcohol, racism, and that annoying kid on the playground who's always trying to tell you random made-up stories you don't particularly want to hear. There's a nice touching section in the middle that reads something like that chapter of Everything is Illuminated about the single father and the newborn son he randomly adopts.

Heather Brickey

Wow! What to say? Well, it was a very interesting book of short stories written by a fellow from the Spokane Indian Reservation. They are somewhat fiction, based on fact, loosely. Sherman has given us an insight to life as in Indian on present reservations, as well as what it is like for those Indians to leave the reservation as well. There were some stories that I really loved and when they ended, I was want them to continue on they were to engaging. Other I was kind of left scratching my head at, but they were still interesting. I liked his style of writing as well, very fluid and I was able to read along as if I were just sitting with him chatting. I really liked learning what it was like for him growing up even though I don't know him personally, but he gives you enough of that in his writing. Like I said there were some stories that I was left scratching my head at. I just didn't get the point and it would kind of just from one thing to the next, with run on paragraphs...? Granted it wasn't such a big deal that I would put the book down and not pick it up again. If you are looking for a quick read this is good for that. I would recommend it for anyone really because the title along turned me off, but I ended up really enjoying it. Well done to Sherman. I enjoyed reading this one and just might have to pick up another one of his books in the future.


A while back, I reviewed the 1998 film Smoke Signals on the SevenPonds blog. This inspired me to read the collection of short stories on which the film was based. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is a magical work of literature that confronts topics of loss and death with dark humor. The collection is by Native American author Sherman Alexie, who also wrote the screenplay for Smoke Signals. Most of the stories in the collection are based on Alexie’s own experiences growing up on a reservation near Spokane, Washington and deal deftly with serious subjects like Native American family dysfunction, broken dreams, alcoholism, loss and death.The story “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” is where Smoke Signals was born: in a short, bittersweet tale of the two Native Americans Victor and Thomas, who travel to Arizona to collect the ashes of Victor’s father. Other stories are loosely related, with an ubiquitous “Victor” who often appears as the protagonist. It’s uncertain whether all of the stories completely overlap or exist on the same temporal plane — but many employ a sense of dark humor in the face of loss and death.[Continued]Full SevenPonds Review:


“…I used to sleep with my books in piles all over my bed and sometimes they were the only thing keeping me warm and always the only thing keeping me alive.”This collection of bittersweet tales, about life on a Spokane Indian Reservation, is a revelation. Alexie based these linked stories on his own experiences, growing up on the Rez and here he focuses on a small group of young people, struggling against a doomed life of poverty and alcoholism, trying to maintain their dignity, their culture and their dissipating dreams. There is humor here too, along with a dash of magical realism and if you peer closely, there are fragments of hope scattered like Fool’s Gold. A triumph.“Imagination is the politics of dreams. Imagine an escape. Imagine that your own shadow on the wall is a perfect door. Imagine a spring with water that mends broken bones. Imagine a drum which wraps itself around your heart. Imagine a story that puts wood in the fireplace.” “And finally this, when the sun was falling down so beautiful we didn’t have time to give it a name, she held the child born of white mother and red father and said,’ Both sides of this baby are beautiful’.”


Sherman Alexie makes his short stories feel like poems. All very well-written, albeit depressing. Funny at the most inappropriate times, and very entertaining.Three other equally good Alexie novels: Ten Little Indians, Flight, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian


A book of funny and melancholy short stories about life on the Spokane Indian reservation. Alcoholism, family, basketball, car crashes, mythology, tradition, love, and mistrust. I liked the fact that the main characters show up in most of the stories, and each story informs the others by filling in missing information. I also liked that Alexie constantly references pieces of American history and culture-- Crazy Horse, Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, the 1980 Olympics boycott-- because it grounds the stories in reality. Highly recommended!

Marc Clapp

Great book of stories that also has the benefit of possibly the coolest title of all time. Yes I picked it up because of the title and I am a huge LR fan but was delighted at what I read inside. Great stuff.


I just consumed this book in one sitting, for good reasons and bad.Good: Alexie writes very smoothly; he definitely gets his picture of life on the Spokane reservation across...Bad: ...repeatedly. As in, halfway through the book I was thinking, "I get it. I get it." Also, I did not know this was going to be a book of short stories, and because the first few seemed loosely connected (they all seem to be about Victor) it really lost me when it wandered off into the other stories which were only connected by the barest of threads.I had a really hard time following some of the stories which included a few paragraphs in the present, then a few paragraphs of flashback, then present, then flashback... my head was spinning. Also, the prose spirals off into the nonsensical in places and that type of trippy musing doesn't really appeal to me.I'm still willing to check out some of Alexie's other books, but it's more on the strength of how much I loved The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian than on any love for his short stories. Hopefully he has some other novels that are a single narrative.Oh, and I guess I'm going to have to watch Smoke Signals again, as Alexie wrote it based off of this book. I saw it years ago and really liked it and I'd like to see how it compares.


alexie's most famous book. was developed into the indie-movie hit smoke signals. a collection of inter-connected short stories that follows a few central characters through reservation life in the latter half of the 20th century. american indian myth, religion, and traditional culture all are addressed by alexie as he attempts to find a place for them in contemporary life. also, the paradox (and alexie seems to argue, at times, crutch) of the reservation is exposed. alexie's prose is wonderful and his descriptions apt for their subjects (dream sequences, drunk sequences, lonesome sequences). no answers are given, or even attempt to be given by alexie. this collection simply gives the reader an idea of what growing up as an american indian on a reservation may have been like in the past 30 years.


I went through different emotions while reading this book. The first time I picked it up I read a few pages and decided I wasn't in the mood to read it. This last time I picked it up I actually thought it was a different book, but read it anyway. It's interesting the way Alexie writes, combining vulgarity with such a poetic voice. The first story made me want to put the book down again, but my brother convinced me to trudge on. The second story had a bit of what I assumed my brother loved about the book, that poetic voice that made the ugliness beautiful.I liked the way this collection of short stories revolved around the same characters. Some stories were written in first person, others in third. I found a few of the stories to be tiresome and a few others very enjoyable. Mostly it made me feel a little sad and wonder if all Indians really are alcoholics. My brother promised a happy ending, but I din't find it to be happy exactly. It was more a kind of contendedness.


In this compilation of short fiction stories, Sherman Alexie shows the sempiternal hardships and difficulties that Native Americans endure. The Native Americans in this book are located on Spokane Reservation, Washington State. Through the book’s depiction of this multi tribal society, the reader is presented with the conflicts and strife the Spokane people face. Alcoholism and discrimination run rampant in the lives of these Native Americans, who endlessly try to find their identity amidst a nation that wants to take it away. While The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven thoroughly illustrates the difficult lives of those living on the reservation, I did not enjoy the book. The narration is neither clear nor systematic, and the stories are not placed in chronological order. This makes it difficult to follow each character’s sequence of events. Alexie also focuses more on themes and symbols than building a storyline, which sometimes left me wondering about the specificity of each character’s events and actions. While Alexie’s style grants an ample opportunity for profound analysis, it does not yield to an emotional connection with Alexie’s two central characters, Victor and Junior. From beginning to end, these two characters battle with identity, a profound theme in the story. Toward the beginning of the book, Victor moves into Seattle to try and adapt to American society. In the end, he moves back to Spokane Indian Reservation after constantly being judged through stereotypes of a typical Native American. Junior also experiences problems fitting in with society. After having a child out of wedlock with a caucasian in college and being discriminated against by his teacher, he does not know where he belongs. When choosing between school and the reservation, he states, “It’s a matter of choosing my own grave” (242). Victor and Junior struggle to find their identity because they do not fit any societal norm. As a result, they live in perpetual exile. While this book effectively uses these two characters to convey the theme of identity, the lack of plot, action, and structure is my reason for giving it two stars out of five. Unless you want to deeply examine and analyze a book with profuse, opaque content, I suggest you leave this one on the library’s bookshelf. ~ Student: Matthew M.

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