Reservation blues / Sherman Alexi.

When this debut novel was published in 1995, Alexi was already a well respected short story writer and poet.  A member of the Spokane Indian tribe, his stories had documented the bitter reality of Native American life on the fringes of American society.  He continues that theme here, taking the reader into the littered landscape of the Spokane Indian reservation.  At the start of the novel, legendary bluesman Robert Johnson appears on the reservation, in flight from the devil and seeking to reclaim his soul.  Thomas-Builds-the-Fire directs Johnson to go visit Big Mama, a powerful mystic living in the area.  Thomas is a gentle young man known for his storytelling, even if few seem willing to listen.  In thanks, Johnson gives Thomas his guitar.  Soon falling under the spell of this magical instrument, Thomas gathers together other misfits like himself to form a band called Coyote Springs.  This group embarks on a musical odyssey that takes them from reservation bars to small-town taverns, from Seattle to New York City and the possibility of a record contract.  The story is comical, magical, and ultimately tragic as the group is unable to escape the effects of growing up in families broken by poverty and alcoholism.  There is also a bittersweet redemption of a sort as Thomas-Builds-the-Fire takes his broken dreams and finally ventures into an unknown world off the reservation.  Even so, it is clear the “wild horses” of the past will always follow him wherever he goes.  This novel proves that all the early hype about Alexi was fully justified.

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