Emily Mead
June 13, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Whether it’s a homeless drunk who tries to get his grandmother’s powwow-dance regalia out of a pawnshop or a young mother who sings to her comatose baby while using an enormous vibrator as backup music, the subjects of these nine stories are passionate in their odd pursuits. Alexie, who wrote the 1998 film Smoke Signals, is an established chronicler of the rituals and ruptures of modern Native American life, but his eye for hard truths transcends any ethnic pigeonholing. While ‘Can I Get a Witness?’ is a rambling clunker, the rest of the tales offer a disarming mix of reverence, sacrilege, off-kilter humor, and pathos. In ‘Flight Patterns,’ an Ethiopian fighter pilot-turned-cabbie and an upwardly mobile Spokane salesman trade stories and chuckle, ‘The contradictions are the story, yes?’ Yes.

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