The Problem with Greatness

You’d think you’d feel exhausted after shutting a nearly 500-page book of short stories by the same author. Not so, though, if that book is Sherman Alexie’s latest, Blasphemy, which features both old and new pieces. This guy has mastered the form; he’s one of those rare authors who makes it look oh-so-easy to whip out a concise, yet multi-layered tale that plops you right down into a living world, without using one word too many or too few. In other words, he’s one of those frustrating individuals who makes you feel even more like an idiot for trying to write your own pathetic yarns, and instead of being relatable enough on a talent level to the reader, gets pretty close to convincing you to just set aside the pen and be satisfied with enjoying the work of others endowed with more skill.

Seattle Municipal Archives via Wikimedia Commons

There are also few people in general I can think of who can identify and openly admit to the use of and immersion in humor in order to cover a multitude of pains, discomforts, and insecurities– and who know at exactly what point a joke or witty comment can leave a relationship in shards. Alexie’s also well-versed in the potential for self-betrayal in humor-as-protective-measure. When is it legitimate to laugh something off, in what circumstances can a well-crafted joke offer true comfort, when does a chuckle essentially concede victory to evil, when does everything stop being funny?

There’s probably a truckload more to say about this book; the place of Native Americans in the U.S., and of white culture’s ambiguous and often guilt-laden-but-inept-and-non-understanding response to the situation/s, holds an unsettled and unsettling place of prominence in most of the stories, as does the way in which men think about and approach women. And if you’re a basketball player and/or fan, you’ll feel the connection of a kindred spirit running in and out of many of the characters’ lives. But to sum it up, if you’re looking for someone who’ll give you a straightforward, yet loving, presentation of imperfect humanity, check out Blasphemy. You won’t be disappointed.


One comment

  1. lostgander

    I saw him speak last year and it was probably the best reading I've ever attended. He talked extemporaneously most of the time, and he was so funny and clever and sincere. If you ever have the chance to see him speak, I highly recommend the experience.


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