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The Indian Killer, by Sherman Alexis.

July 29, 2016

The Indian Killer, by Sherman Alexis.  Grove Press (1994), 420 pages.

4 stars

A prominent Native American writer explores the racial hate and violence in our cities in a novel published in 1996 and all too relevant today.

Sherman Alexis is among the Native American authors who have received acceptance and awards from the literary establishment.  He is a poet and a filmmaker, as well as a novelist.  Some of his best known works are short stories, published in his own collections and the edited collections of others.  He is descended from several Indian tribes and is a life-long resident of the Pacific Northwest where many of his stories are set.  Typically, his writing focuses on the inner and outer conflicts of Native Americans growing up and living on reservations and in urban settings.

The Indian Killer describes a mix of characters of both Native American and European linage who come together in painful and dangerous ways in Seattle.   John Smith is a major figure, a Native American adopted at birth by a comfortable white couple who love him but fail to meet his needs.  In the novel, Smith has become a silent, isolated man full of anger at the white world to which he has never belonged.  Rather than focusing exclusively on Smith, however, Alexis introduces a variety of characters, each working out his or her particular anger.  He includes humorous depictions of a university professor, a mystery writer, and a talk show host who all claim to know more about Indians than Indians do.  Homeless people and a college woman who tried to help them are treated more sympathetically.  When a series of murders occur in the city, residents quickly assume that the killer is an Indian, and racial hatred and violence erupts.  Everyone, it seems is ready to kill someone.  John Smith describes his ever present rage.

All the anger in the world has come to my house. It’s there in my closet. In the refrigerator. In the water. In the sheets. It’s in my clothes. Can you smell it? I can never run away from it. It’s in my hair. I can feel it between my teeth. Can you taste it? I hear it all the time.

Alexis is an excellent writer whose prose is insightful and full of gentle humor, even when he is dealing with deadly serious issues as he is here.  He makes it easy to identify with characters who horrify us.  I have enjoyed his short stories more than this novel, however, mostly because I shy away from extended violence.  But we live in a world where hatred and violence are omnipresent.   We need to understand why.   I gladly recommend The Indian Killer.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 29, 2016 5:52 pm

    Hi Marilyn, I’ve added this to the Indigenous Reading List on my blog, thanks:)
    PS Are you at Goodreads? We should add books like this one to an American Indian Reading List there, if there is one…

    • July 30, 2016 10:53 am

      Thanks. I am on Library Thing, not Goodreads. I keep planning to put together my own list of Native American authors, but so far I haven’t managed to get it done.


  1. Reviews from Indigenous Literature Week at ANZ Litlovers 2016 | ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

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