Excerpt from The Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors by Laura Miller, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors

by Laura Miller

The Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
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    Aug 2000, 512 pages

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How's the fiction? Pretty good. In his first three books, Alexie's Indian characters carried the uneasy burden of racism with a resigned form of black humor. By the time he wrote Indian Killer, though, the black humor had given way to pure rage. Indian Killer is a terribly dark, unrelenting novel about a Native American serial killer and the near-race war he triggers. The characters are thinly drawn and uncharacteristically uncomplicated—everyone seems to be either an angry, revenge-hungry Indian or a naive, ignorant white guy. "A lot of people dismiss the book as angry or didactic," Alexie once replied to his critics. "Well of course! People have this view that literature is somehow supposed to be objective. The book is called Indian Killer, not White People Are Really Cool to Indians."

See Also: Leslie Marmon Silko also writes about Native Americans, as does Gerald Vizenor, who shares Alexie's tough-eye-edged-with-humor attitude and who writes both fiction and nonfiction about the American Indian experience. Simon Ortiz is another American Indian short story-writer whose work inspired Alexie. —Bruce Barcott

Allison, Dorothy 1949- b. Greenville, South Carolina

FICTION: Trash (stories, 1988), Bastard Out of Carolina (1992), Cavedweller (1998)

NONFICTION: Skin: Talking about Sex, Class and Literature (essays, 1993), Two or Three Things I Know for Sure (1996)

POETRY: The Women Who Hate Me (1983)

Dorothy Allison writes about the kinds of experiences—poverty, child abuse, lesbianism—that usually come swaddled in one set of "correct" conventions or another, but she obeys no laws or manners, and that is precisely why her books reach beyond the boundaries of any specific community. Born illegitimate to a proud, violent, and despised rural clan, she survived beatings and rape at the hands of her stepfather, struggled her way to college, and eventually found an uneasy place for herself among the mostly middle-class lesbian feminist activists of the 1970s and 1980s. The tough, passionate women and dangerous men of her childhood remain her preferred characters, but stories in Trash and essays in Skin testify to her refusal to renounce her renegade sexuality for the sake of genteel sisterhood—often at a high price. Few American writers have had to fight as hard for themselves and their voices, and few are as free of self-pity or as confident in their warmth.

Her first novel, the autobiographical Bastard Out of Carolina, was widely praised and became a bestseller. But Trash, a collection of short stories published four years earlier, offers the purest distillation of her sinewy lyricism. Allison's storytelling skills tend to be anecdotal, and Bastard has the occasional slack moment as she gathers steam for the next episode. Finally, though, Allison's first novel is knitted firmly together by fierce loyalty and the rage of betrayed love. Bone Boatwright, the eponymous bastard and a "stubborn-faced" little girl, grows up in a notorious family of flinty women and drunken, thieving men. Her adored mother, who marries a man who abuses Bone, never musters the strength to defend her child, and Bone faces choices no child should have to make.

Allison, though, shouldn't be mistaken for an "issue" novelist like the throngs of writers who seized upon incest as a primary topic in the late '80s and early '90s. She aims to be something like the bard of the women of her class, and in her 1998 novel Cavedweller, the story of a failed rock singer returning to her Georgia hometown to raise the daughters she abandoned, Allison gave her convenience-store managers and beauty-salon proprietors heroic stature. The book is baggier and less focused than Bastard but also less claustrophobic.

Reproduced with the permission of the publisher, Viking Penguin. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher.

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