BOOKS / Two Americas: leaping salmon and hot wheels

IN The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight In Heaven (Secker and Warburg, pounds 8.99), Sherman Alexie gives us a vibrant, quirky collection of 22 linked stories from on and around the American Indian Reservation in Washington. Gathering up the twigs of past and present into a strong contemporary bundle, Alexie ushers a cast of strong characters through the book.

There are fistfights at school, ball games, drunken evenings and family reminiscences. In one autobiographical story, Alexei's father claims to have been the only Indian at Woodstock; his mother comments: 'Your father was always half crazy, and the other half was on medication.' The stories teem with humour, both gentle and abrasive. One character has an unpronounceable Indian name which Alexie translates as 'he who crawls silently through the grass with a small bow and one bad arrow hunting for enough deer to feed the whole tribe - we just call him James.'

In the best of the stories, 'This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona', an Indian called Victor Many Horses drives three days to collect his father's remains and bring them home to the reservation. His friend, Thomas Builds-The- Fire goes along, taking the ashes and tossing them into the Spokane Falls: 'And your father will rise like a salmon, leap over the bridge, over me, and find his way home.' Alexie has an ability to jump the prose out of this world and into another, but he keeps the style plain.

In the most serious pieces, he mixes the glories of the past with the indignities of the present, overlaid by ancestral voices laughing in the trees. Imagine Crazy Horse had the A-Bomb in 1876, Alexie muses, 'Would the urban Indians still be sprawled around the one-room apartment in the cable television reservation?' These darker moments give The Lone Ranger its depth and scope. This America is not the land of opportunity but the continent of lost potential.

Robert Olmstead's America By Land (Secker and Warburg, pounds 8.99) treats the whole country as a reservation. This road novel has echoes of Jack Kerouac and Hunter S Thompson, but it also leans heavily on the road songs of James Taylor, The Eagles, and Paul Simon: 'Before she left for Mexico, her father said, having a daughter is like a needle in the heart.' But like country and western lyrics, Olmstead's prose overreaches in almost every paragraph by exactly one sentence; the effect is like an eager employer telling you to think what you already know.

His slangy style wraps itself round the tale of Raymond Romeo Redfield and his cousin Juliet. She has sold her baby to a childless couple in Albuquerque and she and Redfield determine to reclaim it. Redfield rides down from New York to New Mexico, finds Juliet, then her child, and heads out again, like some high plains drifter on a Harley. This is essentially modern picaresque, except the hero is as uneven and unpredictable as the roads he drives. Juliet, too, is a strange, protean creation, moody and mixed up. The best and worst of Olmstead is here, the worst in the superfluous final sentence: 'Out on the road you don't need what's left behind, unless you need it.'

America is large and familiar enough to sustain Olmstead's character-as-journey idea. But however many '66 Corvettes or snips of Bob Dylan, the novel lacks the alchemy to make it more than its parts.

Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood

'Whether he left is almost immaterial'TV
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before