Thursday, October 10, 2013

Reader's Diary #1074- Robert Arthur Alexie: The Pale Indian

The Pale Indian, by Robert Arthur Alexie, starts off with such beautiful yet provocative writing. However, when the characters began to speak, I started to feel less impressed.

There was a visual artist from my hometown that I remember everyone going nuts for. He was young and the community was really supportive. Before long everyone was getting him to paint signs, even full sized murals across their businesses. Occasionally, however, this artist slipped a person into his work. No one would come right out and say it, but these characters didn't exactly match his skill with landscapes. Truth be known these people were grotesque. Disproportionate and misshapen. Painting people is clearly hard.

And such was the dialogue in The Pale Indian. Every tedious and inconsequential word spoken makes the page.

Worse, however, is the sex. Once two of the central characters have sex, Alexie becomes preoccupied with it. I'm talking Jean M. Auel book-ruining levels of preoccupation. Isn't it some sort of artistic crime to make sex boring?

When the book begins, two stories start to unfold. One is about John, an aboriginal from the fictional Northwest Territories community of Aberdeen. John and his sister Eva, children of abusive and neglectful parents, are sent to live with a white family in Alberta. As an adult John finds himself working near Aberdeen, and falls in love with a girl named Tina. There are unforeseen complications to their relationship that take forever to unfold, to the characters at least. It's pretty predictable to the reader long before that.

The other plot, which eventually links up, involves a pale Indian named Edward. This mysterious man, also from Aberdeen, is living in a mental institute in the south. He has secrets. In Laurel Smith's Quill and Quire review she refers to the passages involving Edward as being the best-written ones in the book. No wonder. They involve little dialogue and no sex.

The intro to the book led me to believe that Alexie was going to shine a light on topics that are rarely talked about, that need to be talked about, and that he was going to do so with poetic aplomb. Didn't quite turn out that way.

Still, I'd be interested in reading another, later book of Alexie's. Maybe the dialogue and sex will be measured out more carefully. Based on the introspective beginning, there's promise.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

Yup, writing bad dialogue and making sex boring are pretty much dealbreakers in the literary world.

John Mutford said...

Barbara: A dealbreaker for this particular book, but I did enjoy the other writing enough that I'm still open to reading something else by Alexie.