The absolutely true story of a part-time book burner: Alexies book not nearly as raunchy as critics imply
Like a lot of people, I believe that most of the 'issues' in life are complicated and multi-faceted, and that you can't really find an objective truth for any of them. However, on the issues where I have come to a definite conclusion, I happen to always be right.
What a blessing it is that I've been able to definitively answer so many of life's persistent questions, to truly 'figure out' life - and at such a young age! Yep, all those nagging existential questions can finally be answered. By me. (Want to play this game as well? Step 1: Ask yourself this: How many of your own opinions do you believe to be wrong? Is the answer zero?! Oh-my-God - you should become a youth columnist too!!!)
You see, as a columnist, I don't like being told how to think. It makes me anxious, and my bones start feeling all 'ferment-revolution-y.' It makes me want to heave a few Molotov Cocktails at the Thought Controllers down at the Amalgamated Council of Grammarians.
But then, after all the fun is over, I settle down and write a column about how everyone else should think exactly like me on said issue. Isn't that what columnists are supposed to do? But when other people start moseying in on my turf, I get antsy.
Take, for example, the article 'Freshman English Book is under attack at LOHS' that ran in last week's issue of the Review. In it, a concerned parent complained about the literary value and supposedly naughty nature of a freshman English book, 'The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian,' by Sherman Alexie. Based on the story's salacious accusations, I was expecting something along the lines of a 12-page full-color inset instructing kids on the art of black magic, curse words and man-on-pumpkin sex. Obviously, I had to get my hands on a copy - and fast.
What I found was disappointing. Instead of sex, I discovered a wonderfully crafted piece of literature exposing the dangerous evil of racism and bigoted-ness, while at the same time painting a heartwarming picture of the human spirit, and the capacity man has for kindness toward his fellow man. It is 230 pages full of comedy, tragedy and valuable moral lessons - and about a paragraph and a half about how the main character likes to touch his doodle.
Yes, the book does mention masturbation briefly. That is it for sex. The opponents of the book (who have apparently never looked down in the shower) seem to think that onanism is aberrant and horrible. Like most of you, I find this entire issue grody as well, but let me say this: Everyone has a right to set their standards on what constitutes healthy sexual behavior - and what Alexie describes hardly falls outside the definition of normal for a red-blooded teenager. Of course, your children are perfect angels who float about in a bubble of hand sanitizer, but as for the rest of us, I think we can attest that quite a bit of, uh, personal manipulation has been going on for a quite some time. (Some estimates put it as far back as the '60s!)
As for offensive or hurtful language - well yes, there is some. On the Holden Caulfield scale for Talking Real Coarse-Like, I'd peg it at a mere 2.3 swear-o-grams. No 'F Bombs,' and the swearing is limited to depicting typical schoolyard vernacular (again, not your children's vocabulary, of course - just everybody else's) or for legitimately needed emphasis. At the same time, complaining that the book depicts offensive language is sort of like complaining about the Bible because it depicts too much violence. 'Part-Time Indian' shows us these ugly images and phrases because they are ugly. It wants kids to reflect on the hateful or hurtful language all of us are guilty of letting slip out - and the novel does a great job of this.
Another accusation leveled at Alexie was that his novel was offensive to the Christian religion - and, I have to admit I'm a bit puzzled by this one. The main character, of Native American background, is Christian. He believes in Heaven and hopes to see a family relation who dies there when he dies. The article mentions a de-contextualized quote from 'Part-Time Indian' that reads: 'Jesus farteth and burpeth in harmony. Miraculous!' But the preceding line is, 'I was mad at God; I was mad at Jesus. They were mocking me (referring to the sudden death of a family member), so I mocked them.'
It sounds to me like an honest depiction of grief - not blasphemy.
If I was forced at gunpoint to name a detraction for 'Part-Time Indian,' I'd say that my one caveat with the tale is that novel becomes wrapped up in a rather pedestrian sports rivalry. Look, I'm your stereotypical weak-kneed academic. Stories about a group of sweaty athletes trying to put a thing in a thing (while an opposing team tries to stop the thing from going in the thing) just don't captivate me. My basic reaction to this portion of the novel was, 'Omgz, why can't they just all sit around discussing Proust for two hours? So booring. Laterzzz.)
At the end of the day, no one has the right to think for anyone else. No one has the right to impose their own values over anyone else's and no citizen should assume he must take up the mantle of morals enforcer. So, what I'm trying to say is, ignore everything I've just said. Read the book - all of it (not just the pictures). Make up your own mind. The worst thing that could happen is you have a frank discussion with your kids about important issues. Not about masturbation (that's between you, your pastor and your web browser) but empathy. About treating others how you would want to be treated. It's a lesson worth repeating.
Zane Sparling, a senior at Lake Oswego High School, writes a twice-a-month column for the Lake Oswego Review.