A few days ago I wrote about how comic books fixate on spectacle, and how you might simply assume that your average grown up novel will fixate on subtlety. However, there are plenty of gritty crime novels (particularly those related to gruesome serial killers who go the other way. Sherman Alexie’s Indian Killer eschews the straight-up spectacle of a racially motivated serial killer mystery (with its potential for red herrings and dramatic climaxes) and instead savors the subtlety of innumerable racially conflicted characters who seem equally capable of murder–and leaves the whodunnit unanswered.
I have an undeniable fondness for Alexie (I’m already planning how to teach his The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian at the beginning of the next school year). One of the things I appreciate about his work is the raw but uncertain emotionality that comes with reflecting on race and identity. Throughout Indian Killer, there’s a mixture of zeal and shame that pushes Native American characters to demonstrate their culture and yet assimilate to white society. Meanwhile a hodgepodge of lust and defensiveness leads many white characters to couple their interest in the other races around them with an attempt to maintain the privilege offered by whiteness. Alexie’s world is not black and white (or red and white), but a complex amalgam of shades and senses that seems just right in our “Melting Pot” society.
I can certainly see how Indian Killer might cause discomfort in readers, the more the violence and animosity between cultures escalates, the easier it becomes for readers to say: “well, that’s not me,” or “can’t we all just get along”. But when Alexie refuses to provide the spectacle of racists receiving the comeuppance, or of children of every creed joining hands to sing, the subtle truth shines through: race matters, and as long as it does, excuses, scape goats and utopias will simply distract from actual reflection on and analysis of race.