August 19, 2006

Ojibwe author disses Erdrich, Alexie

American Indian Writing, Seen Through a New LensIn the book Mr. Treuer takes on Louise Erdrich, Leslie Marmon Silko, James Welch, Sherman Alexie and other Native American writers. He finds much to praise but argues that the works of Indian authors are often read as ethnographies, when they should be read as literature. In addition, some Native writers, he says, use pictures of Indianness passed down by white authors including Rousseau, Walter Scott, James Fenimore Cooper, Washington Irving, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Walt Whitman. He contends that they even reflect “The Education of Little Tree,” a best seller in the 1970’s and 80’s written by Forrest Carter, who was discovered to be a violent racist, a Ku Klux Klan member and a speechwriter for Gov. George Wallace of Alabama.

Ms. Erdrich, also an Ojibwe, is a great novelist, Mr. Truer writes, but her books are not authentic Native texts, though they may appear to be. She misuses Ojibwe words, he says, calling them “display, with language itself a museum piece.” The characters in “Love Medicine,” her best-known book, are modeled on people of the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota, but don’t even speak the right dialect, he says. Ms. Erdrich did not return calls for comment.

While also praising Mr. Alexie, a Spokane-Coeur d’Alene Indian, for his abilities as a novelist, Mr. Treuer compares him to Mr. Carter. The characters in Mr. Alexie’s novel “Reservation Blues,” Mr. Truer says, are like those in “Little Tree”: burlesques, with prose full of mixed metaphors and far-reaching similes. For example, in “Reservation Blues,” when someone speaks, Mr. Alexie writes that “his words sounded like stones in his mouth and coals in his stomach.”

Flawed prose and clich├ęd images and ideas, Mr. Treuer contends, are typical of writing about Natives—whether by Indians or whites—and are excused because they fit the culture’s preconceived notions of what Indians and Indian life are like.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm going to have to read this one, Rob! If nothing else, the author is surely provocative in his viewpoints.