Monday, March 12, 2012

One Stick Song

The beginning of the "Alexie Sandwich." The "Alexie Sandwich" is a term i have coined to Sherman Alexie's stories and poetry when he makes a point. It is almost like telling a joke. First, he explains a funny situation, then he hits you with a punch of serious emotion, then he finishes with a light punch-line. Or the situation is reversible; either way, you get punched.

Two perfect examples of these "Sandwiches" are from the long narrative story, The Unauthorized Autobiography of Me.

First is a sad-funny-sad story.
"When I step into the house, my mother is sewing yet another quilt. She is singing a song under her breath. You might assume she is singing a highly traditional Spokane Indian song. In fact, she is singing Donna Fargo's 'The Happiest Girl in the Whole USA.' Improbably, this is a highly traditional Spokane Indian song. The living room is dark in the late afternoon. The house is cold. My mother is wearing her coat and shoes."
The song his mother sings is about a girl who is so lucky to be married to a wonderful husband. This song is both funny and ironic because Alexie sets us up with "highly traditional Spokane Indian song." We are introduced to a scene where his mother quietly and sadly sings another song, then we learn what that song actually was, then Alexie brings us back to reality in the cold house of his mother where she must sew quilts to pay the electric bill and feed her children. The song is also ironic because Alexie's father constantly left the family to drink himself away. Sherman has always been upset about this and often writes poetry about drunk fathers, but his stories are sometimes taken too far.

This brings us to the funny-sad-funny story.
"Years later, I am giving a reading at a bookstore in Spokane, Washington. There is a large crowd. I read a story about an Indian father who leaves his family for good. He moves to a city a thousand miles away. Then he dies. It is a sad story. When I finish, a woman in the front row breaks into tears.
'What's wrong?' I ask her.
'I'm so sorry about your father,' she says.
'Thank you,' I say, 'But that's my father sitting right next to you.'"
Alexie sets us up with a sad story about an Indian father, which is probably a common situation even though Sherman made it up. The woman cries and apologizes, and Alexie says "Thank you." To me, this means Alexie does indeed hold his father responsible for his childhood. Finally, the last line unchokes our throats that were previously tight from crying, and gives us a good laugh with an awkward situation.

As readers, we are both sympathetic and empathetic to the stories we read. Our reactions are predetermined by the author, maybe even controlled, but depending on our own personalities and situations, we perceive stories differently. For this reason, I seriously respect the presentation of Alexie's stories. When I feel something while reading his work, I have this strange acknowledgement that Sherman meant for that specific emotion. It is almost like he takes in important factors such as color, guilt, suppression, and haunted pasts into his mechanics of poetry.
I will explore these "Sandwiches" further in more of Alexie's works.

No comments:

Post a Comment