June 10, 2013

Crime-Fiction Issue: "Happy Trails"

By Sherman Alexie
~1400 words

A man comes to terms with his uncle's disappearance some four decades earlier.

When the unnamed narrator was seven years old, his favorite relative, Uncle Hector, left the Coeur d'Alene Indian reservation on a hitchhiking trip to Spokane and never returned. Forty-one years later, the narrator convinces his mother that it's time to "bury" Hector. As an empty casket is laid into the ground at a Catholic cemetery, the narrator comes to an uncomfortable conclusion about how his uncle died.

The story's strength lies in the narrator's deprecating self-awareness and wry humor as he spins a tragic tale of poverty, alcoholism, and violence. The language, however, is clichéd at times—"I loved her so much," "our worst losses and our greatest beauty," etc.—and the narrative tends to meander. It's unclear, for example, what the narrator's romantic relationship to his cousin has to do with his uncle's disappearance. Such distractions lead to clumsy narrative transitions such as "Anyway…" (used twice). Finally, the long paragraph about Hector's grandmother feels too much like a pretext for slipping in a lesson on Native American history.

Despite its problems, "Happy Trails" is a worthy meditation on the meaning of loss and the many social problems that confront American Indians in contemporary society.


Also from the crime-fiction issue: "Brotherly Love," "Scenes of the Crime," "Slide to Unlock," "Rough Deeds," "An Inch and a Half of Glory."

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