iRead program features “War Dances”

IReading Material Author Sherman Alexie’s book, “War Dances” is the current IRead program book.

Kerry Wharton / Washburn Review

The 2011 iRead program, which hopes to enrich the minds of students through reading books and by being involved on campus, chose Sherman Alexie’s “War Dances” for its 2011 featured book.

The book, which is a collection of poems, short stories and conversational pieces, is a witty meditation on existential problems, such as self-worth, death and tragedy. Alexie’s ability to cut through to the reader’s core with his humor and unforgiving honesty does not fall short in this newest collection.

“War Dances,” the title piece in the book, tells the story of a man who is dealing with the prolonged death of his father, who is dying of alcohol and diabetes, when he gets the news that he himself has a brain tumor. The story plays lightly with humor as the son attempts to keep a connection with his father and also keeps his own children from knowing the potential severity of his diagnosis.

In “Breaking and Entering,” the book’s opening short story the narrator, a free-lance editor, finds himself face-to-face with a looming moral issue when a break in occurs at his home and the results are tragic.

The narrator, being an editor, promises to only tell about the crucial events in the story, and he delivers on his promise by telling a captivating and unapologetic tale of grief, racism and moral questioning.

In “The Ballad of Paul Nonetheless,” Alexie creates the story of a successful vintage-clothing salesman named Paul who is failing miserably in his marriage as a father and as a man, trying to capture the attention of a beautiful woman who he keeps running into in different airports as he is travelling for work. The story is beautifully and vulnerably human, eliciting much emotion from the reader.

The poems in the collection highlight Alexie’s ability for straight-forward honesty, and he even occasionally mocks his own writing skills, as it seems that he considers himself more of a short story writer than a poet. “Another Proclamation” is brutal and blunt, and with Alexie’s authoritative experimental line structure, the poem’s emotion is amplified, leaving its words in the reader’s blood.

The book overall is a moving and important collection of many different people’s encounters with death and discovering their own self worth in the face of it. With such a serious topic to undertake (which he does in each piece), the reader ends up being thankful and enthusiastic to be reading about it through Sherman Alexie’s funny, tender and careful voice.