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


I love this book of short stories and Indian philosophy and my notes on it are full of quotes, such as:“There are things you should learn. Your past is a skeleton walking one step behind you, and your future is a skeleton walking one step in front of you. Maybe you don’t wear a watch, but your skeletons do and they always know what time it is. Now, these skeletons are made of memories, dreams and voices. And they can trap you in the in between, between touching and becoming. But they’re not necessarily evil, unless you let them be . . . But no matter what they do, keep walking, keep moving. And don’t wear a watch. Hell, Indians never need to wear a watch. Because your skeletons will always remind you about the time. See, it is always now. That’s what Indian time is. The past, the future, all of it is wrapped up in the now. That’s how it is. We are trapped in the now.” (pp. 21, 22) I think this is one of Alexie’s first books, and it’s a great one!


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.


So I have a love-hate relationship with Alexie's work. I admire his talent, admire his heart. I think I'd like him if I ever got to know him. But there are some big parts to his work that bother me. He tends to think very black and white. He says a lot of outrageous things about white women which tend to alienate me. But goddamn. At the end of the day this man can write a story that makes me laugh and cry. I've read several of his books but have never read this one. I found it for cheap the other day and decided to pick it up and give this one a go. (I already have a first edition, first printing, signed copy of this book on my shelf but haven't read it because I keep them in pristine condition to sell for my nephew if he decides he wants to go to college.) This book is very classic early Alexie. There's the magical realism, the dark humor, the issues with race and gender and anger, the underlying mysticism. The massively inappropriate and offensive turned to a big joke. The repetition. These are all the things Alexie is very good at, and there's lots of this in "Lone Ranger."My criticism of this book is similar to many of my criticisms of Alexie. I wish he'd go more into character development, that's the big thing. His characters are so funny and tragic. Why are they that way? Why are they so outrageous? Why do they choose to do the specific things they do? I'd like to know.


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.


Read this book and 3 others by Sherman Alexie prior to his appearance at "Talking Volumes", a collaboration of Minnesota Public Radio, The Loft and other Minnesota groups. Sherman's most recent plublications include a novel for teens "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" and a novel for adult readers called "Flight". I read 5 of his books (in date of publication order) and found his style evolving and growing as he himself admitted. Sherman is constantly re-inventing himself and has the now relatively unique quality of admitting he has grown beyond earlier ideals and opinions, so much so that he wishes to dis-own one of his novels from the '90's. A refreshing outlook on humanity, with and incredible gift to find humor in even the darkest sides of life.


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


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.


Let me just take this time to say how much I just adore Sherman Alexie. I was so enthralled with this collection of short stories that in the midst of reading it I found a copy of SMOKE SIGNALS, the movie based off of the collection, and watched it just because I couldn't get enough of the characters and the stories. I am immediately going to build my Alexie collection, and I regret waiting so long to read this book. He is definitely one of the best and most important voices in American Literature these days, and if you want to know why, pick up THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO FISTFIGHT IN HEAVEN and read it.Essentially, THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO FISTFIGHT IN HEAVEN is a collection of short stories with differing narratives, but they follow number of people from the Spokane Indian Reservation and the lives that they live there. It generally follows the stories of two protagonists: There's Victor Joseph, an embittered man who misses his wife and grew up inside a tumultuous home, and there's Tommy Builds-The-Fire, a man who loves to tell stories no matter what trouble it gets him in. There are stories of their childhoods, stories of what it's like to live on the Reservation, stories of what it's like to deal with alcoholism both around you and inside of you, stories of friendship, of love, of pride in oneself and one's heritage. The collection weaves one larger narrative including flashbacks, visions, present day stories, what ifs, and dreams of the characters and their interactions with family and friends. At many times painful, and all times beautifully worded, the reader falls into the world that Alexie weaves and so easily loses oneself in the imagery and characters.I think that my favorite story was "This Is What It Means To Say Phoenix, Arizona", the story that served as the main inspiration for SMOKE SIGNALS. When Victor gets word that his father, who left him and his mother when Victor was just a boy, was found dead in his trailer in Arizona, he wants to go collect his remains. However, he doesn't have the money. That's when Tommy Builds-The-Fire, a long lost childhood friend of Victor's, offers to go with him and help pay for it, as he too was very close to Victor's Dad. Their travels make Victor realize that he has a lot more in common with Tommy than he ever imagined, in spite of the fact that their friendship ended long ago. The sadness that permeates the page has some relief in some very touching an amusing moments between Victor and Tommy, and I greatly enjoyed the relationship that blossomed again, even if you get the sense that it won't go much further than the end of the trip. That's the thing about this collection. There are many tragedies, but within every tragedy there is a shred of hope. That's what Alexie does best, I think.I am definitely pleased that I picked this one up finally. I need to pick up RESERVATION BLUES at some point, since that explores the continued adventures of Victor and Tommy. For those who like Alexie for THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART TIME INDIAN, you should totally pick this one up as well. It's fabulous.


We need more authors like Sherman Alexie. Being Native American in the U.S. is like living in our own foreign country within a country. No one besides an Indian REALLY knows what it is like to live on a reservation. Alexie vividly paints this picture in a no-nonsense, brutally honest way. I love that. I wish general joe-public had more of a grasp of what growing up Native American is like instead of applying the age-old stigmas of uneducated diabetic drunks who run the casinos and play BINGO. I love my heritage and am desperately trying to keep it alive with my children. We are a dying breed.....only a shell of what we used to be before the Europeans came...and yet so rich in culture and tenacity. I appreciate how Alexie captures this in his writing. Today is a good day to die. I found myself remembering some of the lingo from the rez and way it is spoken. I love how Alexie brings this in...enit, and ya~hey. I could feel the beat of the drums through each story. Echoing in the wind where ever I am..covering me in a blanket, bringing me peace. While on the reservation, there always seemed to be drums in the air. I would step outside the hospital during my night shift for a break and hear drums beating in the distance. Like a lullaby. An instant stress reliever. A soft breeze combing through the hairs of my arms. Comfort.This is what Indians are good at. Living for today. Living the NOW. is a good day to die. is a good day to read a book. Today is a good day to read Sherman Alexie. Bring it on dude....more, more, more....


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.


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 collection of linked short stories is a tale of life on an Indian reservation; it is an exploration of the ways in which Indians deal with the pains and the joys of their lives (storytelling, dance, basketball, food, alcohol); it is a reflection on the relationship between past, present, and future; and it is a meditation on storytelling as a means of bearing witness and as a means of creation and change.The first story of the collection, "Every Little Hurricane," introduces both the functions of storytelling and the interconnectedness of pain and joy. Told from the perspective of a nine-year-old boy, "Every Little Hurricane" describes a scene at a party in which the young protagonist watches his uncles fight in the yard: "He could see his uncles slugging each other with such force that they had to be in love. Strangers would never want to hurt each other that badly" (2). Immediately, we are shown this connection between hate and love, between the "specific and beautiful" and the "dangerous and random" (5). The young boy, Victor, does not really take part in the action of the story, however. He is merely a witness: "They were all witnesses and nothing more. For hundreds of years, Indians were witnesses to crimes of an epic scale" (3). The second story, "A Drug Called Tradition," takes up the question of time. Three young Indian men try a new drug together, one that gives them visions of a glorious past (horse stealing, music, dance), only to be warned in the end against the seductive appeal of this past as Thomas tells them "not to slow dance with [their] skeletons" (21). This is explained further: "Your past is a skeleton walking one step behind you, and your future is a skeleton walking one step in front of you" (21) Sometimes these skeletons can trap you or they may try to tempt you, but "what you have to do is keep moving, keep walking, in step with your skeletons. . . . [and] no matter what they do, keep walking, keep moving. And don't wear a watch. Hell, Indians never need to wear a watch because your skeletons will always remind you about the time. See, it is always now. That's what Indian time is. The past, the future, all of it is wrapped up in the now. That's how it is. We are trapped in the now" (22). The past, tradition, can be glorious, Thomas warns the young men, but looking only backward is dangerous; similarly, looking only forward to a potential future is dangerous. Both are dangerous because they prevent a clear vision and an actual experience of the actual, present, real world. In "Imagining the Reservation," Alexie presents a formula that is key to the entire book. He writes, "Survival = Anger X Imagination. Imagination is the only weapon on the reservation" (150). He notes the limitations of imagination, asking, "Does every Indian depend on Hollywood for a twentieth-century vision?" (151) and "How can we imagine a new language when the language of the enemy keeps our dismembered tongues tied to his belt? How can we imagine a new alphabet when the old jumps off billboards down into our stomachs?" (152). But he also ends the story with a call for more imagination, for imagination that has concrete results:"There are so many possibilities in the reservation, 7-11, so many methods of survival. Imagine every Skin on the reservation is the new lead guitarist for the Rolling Stones, on the cover of a rock-and-roll magazine. Imagine forgiveness is sold 2 for 1. Imagine every Indian is a video game with braids. Do you believe laughter can save us? All I know is that I count coyotes to help me sleep. Didn't you know? Imagination is the politics of dreams; imagination turns every word into a bottle rocket. Adrian, imagine every day is Independence Day and save us from traveling the river changed; save us from hitchhiking the long road home. Imagine an escape. Imagine that your own shadow on the wall is a perfect door. Imagine a song stronger than penicillin. 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." (152-3)The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven is a book that is not without hope, but it is a hope that is thoroughly aware of what has lost that cannot be regained and of what losses may be sustained in the future. It is a hope that dares not look into the future at the expense of the present or the past. Alexie writes in the final story, "Witnesses, Secret and Not," that "sometimes it seems like all Indians can do is talk about the disappeared" (222), asking "at what point do we just re-create the people who have disappeared from our lives?" (222). At what point is the storytelling and the memory a new creation and what is the cost of this memory and this creation? Imagination--the key component of both this kind of memory and of storytelling--he seems to say, is both a burden and a tool.

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.


I was taking a fun English class in college where we just read a bunch of fiction and our textbook included the Short Story "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven." I read that and was hooked. I went and bought the whole collection of his short stories. I've never read anything that moved me so much. These stories are depressing and sad, but they made me smile too. I developed an entire addiction to learning and reading about Native Americans because of Sherman Alexie. This book of short stories is seriously one of the most beautiful pieces of literature I've ever read. In fact, there are only two authors who I love so much that I refuse to run out and read everything they've written right away because I want to savor them and make them last as long as I can. One is Alexie and the other is John Irving. Read it. You won't be disappointed.

Elaine Bearden

high school - adultI read this book because I loved "The True Story of a Part-Time Indian" so much and I wanted to read more by Sherman Alexie. While I enjoyed the stories, I felt that it was difficult to put them all together. (I might add that this could be because I read it in small pieces before I went to bed every night, so that could have clouded my opinion :) I enjoyed immensely Alexie's sense of place and palpable emotions - reminds me of Francisco X. Stork's "The Last Summer of the Death Warriors" in that way. What appears to be a series of short stories centered on a reservation, also reveals the interconnectedness of people. The pain and desperation was palpable. The metaphorical writing style was beautiful, however, during the court scenes I felt like he lost the reader. (or perhaps just this reader didn't get it:) I feel like there's some ways the stories were interconnected I didn't get, however, as a whole I think it was good. I prefer "The True Story" over this book. It would be interesting to see how his other books compare to this and "The True Story."

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