A serial murderer dubbed “the Indian Killer” has Seattle living in fear. As he scalps his victims and adorns their bodies with owl feathers, the city consumes itself in a nightmare frenzy of racial tension. Then a possible suspect emerges: John Smith. An Indian raised by whites, John is lost between cultures. He fights for a sense of belonging that may never be his—but has his alienation made him angry enough to kill?
The New York Times–bestselling author of You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me and many other acclaimed works, Sherman Alexie traces John Smith’s rage with scathing wit and masterly suspense, delivering both a scintillating thriller and a searing parable of race, identity, and violence.
This ebook features an illustrated biography including rare photos from the author’s personal collection.
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By Sherman Alexie
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1996 Sherman Alexie
All rights reserved.
THE SHEETS ARE DIRTY. An Indian Health Service hospital in the late sixties. On this reservation or that reservation. Any reservation, a particular reservation. Antiseptic, cinnamon, and danker odors. Anonymous cries up and down the hallways. Linoleum floors swabbed with gray water. Mop smelling like old sex. Walls painted white a decade earlier, now yellowed and peeling. Old Indian woman in a wheelchair singing traditional songs to herself, tapping a rhythm on her armrest, right index finger tapping, tapping. Pause. Tap, tap. A phone ringing loudly from behind a thin door marked PRIVATE. Twenty beds available, twenty beds occupied. Waiting room where a young Indian man sits on a couch and holds his head in his hands. Nurses' lounge, two doctor's offices, and a scorched coffee pot. Old Indian man, his hair bright white and unbraided, pushing his I.V. bottle down the hallway. He is barefoot and confused, searching for a pair of moccasins he lost when he was twelve years old. Donated newspapers and magazines stacked in bundles, months and years out of date, missing pages. In one of the examining rooms, an Indian family of four, mother, father, son, daughter, all coughing blood quietly into handkerchiefs. The phone still ringing behind the PRIVATE door. A cinderblock building, thick windows that distort the view, pine trees, flagpole. A 1957 Chevy parked haphazardly, back door flung open, engine still running, back seat damp and bloodstained. Empty now.
The Indian woman on the table in the delivery room is very young, just a child herself. She is beautiful, even in the pain of labor, the contractions, the sudden tearing. When John imagines his birth, his mother is sometimes Navajo. Other times she is Lakota. Often, she is from the same tribe as the last Indian woman he has seen on television. Her legs tied in stirrups. Loose knots threatening to unravel. The white doctor has his hands inside her. Blood everywhere. The nurses work at mysterious machines. John's mother is tearing her vocal cords with the force of her screams. Years later, she still speaks in painful whispers. But during his birth, she is so young, barely into her teens, and the sheets are dirty.
The white doctor is twenty-nine years old. He has grown up in Iowa or Illinois, never seeing an Indian in person until he arrives at the reservation. His parents are poor. Having taken a government scholarship to make his way through medical school, he now has to practice medicine on the reservation in exchange for the money. This is the third baby he has delivered here. One white, two Indians. All of the children are beautiful.
John's mother is Navajo or Lakota. She is Apache or Seminole. She is Yakama or Spokane. Her dark skin contrasts sharply with the white sheets, although they are dirty. She pushes when she should be pushing. She stops pushing when they tell her to stop. With clever hands, the doctor turns John's head to the correct position. He is a good doctor.
The doctor has fallen in love with Indians. He thinks them impossibly funny and irreverent. During the hospital staff meetings, all of the Indians sit together and whisper behind their hands. There are no Indian doctors, but a few of the nurses and most of the administrative staff are Indian. The white doctor often wishes he could sit with the Indians and whisper behind his hand. But he maintains a personable and professional distance. He misses his parents, who still live in Iowa or Illinois. He calls them often, sends postcards of beautiful, generic landscapes.
The doctor's hands are deep inside John's mother, who is only fourteen, and who is bleeding profusely where they have cut her to make room for John's head. But the sheets were dirty before the blood, and her vagina will heal. She is screaming in pain. The doctor could not give her painkillers because she had arrived at the hospital too far into labor. The Chevy is still running outside, rear door flung open, back seat red and damp. The driver is in the waiting room. He holds his head in his hands.
Are you the father?
No, I'm the driver. She was walking here when I picked her up. She was hitchhiking. I'm just her cousin. I'm just the driver.
The phone behind the PRIVATE door is still ringing. His mother pushes one last time and John slides into the good doctor's hands. Afterbirth. The doctor clears John's mouth. John inhales deeply, exhales, cries. The old Indian woman in the wheelchair stops singing. She hears a baby crying. She stops her tapping to listen. She forgets why she is listening, then returns to her own song and the tapping, tapping. Pause. Tap, tap. The doctor cuts the umbilical cord quickly. There is no time to waste. A nurse cleans John, washes away the blood, the remains of the placenta, the evidence. His mother is crying.
I want my baby. Give me my baby. I want to see my baby. Let me hold my baby.
The doctor tries to comfort John's mother. The nurse swaddles John in blankets and takes him from the delivery room, past the old Indian man dragging his I.V. down the hallway, looking for his long-lost moccasins. She carries John outside. A flag hangs uselessly on its pole. No wind. The smell of pine. Inside the hospital, John's mother has fainted. The doctor holds her hand, as if he were the loving husband and father. He remembers the family of four coughing blood into handkerchiefs in the examining room. The doctor is afraid of them.
With John in her arms, the nurse stands in the parking lot. She is white or Indian. She watches the horizon. Blue sky, white clouds, bright sun. The slight whine of a helicopter in the distance. Then the violent whomp-whomp of its blades as it passes overhead, hovers, and lands a hundred feet away. In the waiting room, the driver lifts his head from his hands when he hears the helicopter. He wonders if there is a war beginning.
A man in a white jumpsuit steps from the helicopter. Head ducked and body bent, the man runs toward the nurse. His features are hidden inside his white helmet. The nurse meets him halfway and hands him the baby John. The jumpsuit man covers John's face completely, protecting him from the dust that the helicopter is kicking up. The sky is very blue. Specific birds hurl away from the flying machine. These birds are indigenous to this reservation. They do not live anywhere else. They have purple-tipped wings and tremendous eyes, or red bellies and small eyes. The nurse waves as the jumpsuit man runs back to the helicopter. She shuts the rear door of the Chevy, reaches through the driver's open window, and turns the ignition key. The engine shudders to a stop.
Suddenly this is a war. The jumpsuit man holds John close to his chest as the helicopter rises. The helicopter gunman locks and loads, strafes the reservation with explosive shells. Indians hit the ground, drive their cars off roads, dive under flimsy kitchen tables. A few Indians, two women and one young man, continue their slow walk down the reservation road, unperturbed by the gunfire. They have been through much worse. The whomp-whomp of the helicopter blades. John is hungry and cries uselessly. He cannot be heard over the roar of the gun, the chopper. He cries anyway. This is all he knows how to do. Back at the clinic, his mother has been sedated. She sleeps in the delivery room. The doctor holds her hand and finds he cannot move. He looks down at his hand wrapped around her hand. White fingers, brown fingers. He can see the blue veins running through his skin like rivers. The phone behind the PRIVATE door stops ringing. Gunfire in the distance. Nobody, not even the white doctor, is surprised by this.
The helicopter flies for hours, it could be days, crossing desert, mountain, freeway, finally a city. Skyscrapers, the Space Needle, water everywhere. Thin bridges stretched between islands. John crying. The gunner holds his fire, but his finger is lightly feathering the trigger. He is ready for the worst. John can feel the distance between the helicopter and the ground below. He stops crying. He loves the distance between the helicopter and the ground. He feels he could fall. He somehow loves this new fear. He wants to fall. He wants the jumpsuit man to release him, let him fall from the helicopter, down through the clouds, past the skyscrapers and the Space Needle. But the jumpsuit man holds him tight so John will not fall. John cries again.
The helicopter circles downtown Seattle, moves east past Lake Washington, Mercer Island, hovers over the city of Bellevue. The pilot searches for the landing area. Five acres of green, green grass. A large house. Swimming pool. A man and woman waving energetically. Home. The pilot lowers the chopper and sets down easily. Blades making a windstorm of grass particles and hard-shelled insects. The gunner's eyes are wide open, scanning the tree line. He is ready for anything. The jumpsuit man slides the door open with one arm and holds John in the other. Noise, heat. John cries, louder than before, trying to be heard. Home. The jumpsuit man steps down and runs across the lawn toward the man and woman, both white and handsome. He wears a gray suit and colorful tie. She wears a red dress with large, black buttons from throat to knee.
John cries as the jumpsuit man hands him to the white woman, Olivia Smith. She unbuttons the top of her dress, opens her bra, and offers John her large, pale breasts with pink nipples. John's birth mother had small, brown breasts and brown nipples, though he never suckled at them. Still, he knows there is a difference, and as John takes the white woman's right nipple into his mouth and pulls at her breast, he discovers it is empty. Daniel Smith wraps his left arm around his wife's shoulders. He grimaces briefly and then smiles. Olivia and Daniel Smith look at the jumpsuit man, who is holding a camera. Flash, flash. Click of the shutter. Whirr of advancing film. All of them wait for a photograph to form, for light to emerge from shadow, for an image to burn itself into paper.CHAPTER 2
The Last Skyscraper in Seattle
WHEN NO BABY CAME after years of trying to conceive, Olivia and Daniel Smith wanted to adopt a baby, but the waiting list was so long. The adoption agency warned them that white babies, of course, were the most popular. Not that it was a popularity contest, they were assured. It was just that most of the couples interested in adopting a baby were white, so naturally, they wanted to adopt a white child, a child like them, but there were simply not enough white babies to go around.
"Listen," the adoption agent said. "Let's be honest. It's going to take at least a year to find a suitable white child for you. Frankly, it may take much longer than that. Up to eight years or more. But we can find you another kind of baby rather quickly."
"Another kind?" asked Olivia.
"Well, of course," said the agent. "There's always the handicapped babies. Down's syndrome. Children missing arms and legs. Mentally retarded. That kind of kid. To be honest, it's very difficult, nearly impossible, to find homes for those children. It's perfectly understandable. These children need special care, special attention. Lots of love. Not very many people can handle it."
"I don't think we want that," Daniel said. Olivia agreed.
"There are other options," said the agent. "We have other difficult-to-place children as well. Now, there's nothing wrong with these babies. They're perfectly healthy, but they're not white. Most are black. We also have an Indian baby. The mother is six months pregnant now."
"Indian?" asked Daniel. "As in American Indian?"
"Yes," said the agent. "The mother is very young, barely into her teens. She's making the right decision. She'll carry the baby to full term and give it up for adoption. Now, ideally, we'd place this baby with Indian parents, right? But that just isn't going to happen. The best place for this baby is with a white family. This child will be saved a lot of pain by growing up in a white family. It's the best thing, really."
Olivia and Daniel agreed to consider adopting the Indian baby. They went home that night, ate a simple dinner, and watched television. A sad movie-of-the-week about an incurable disease. Daniel kept clearing his throat during the movie. Olivia cried. When it was over, Daniel switched off the television. They undressed for bed, brushed their teeth, and lay down together.
"What do you think?" asked Olivia.
"I don't know," said Daniel.
They made love then, both secretly hoping this one would take. They wanted to believe that everything was possible. An egg would drop, be fertilized, and begin to grow. As he moved inside his wife, Daniel closed his eyes and concentrated on an image of a son. That son would be exactly half of him. He saw a son with his chin and hair. He saw a baseball glove, bicycle, tree house, barking dog. Olivia wrapped her arms around her husband, pressed her face to his shoulder. She could feel him inside her, but it was a vague, amorphous feeling. There was nothing specific about it. During the course of their married life, the sex had mostly felt good. Sometimes, it had been uncomfortable, once or twice painful. But she did not feel anything this time. She opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling.
Olivia knew she was beautiful. She had been a beautiful baby, little girl, teenager, woman. She had never noticed whether it was easy or hard to be that beautiful. It never really occurred to her to wonder about it. All her life, her decisions had been made for her. She was meant to graduate from high school, get into a good college, find a suitable young man, earn a B.A. in art history, marry, and never work. Somewhere between reading a biography of van Gogh and fixing dinner, she was supposed to have a baby. Except for producing that infant, she had done what was expected of her, had fulfilled the obligations of her social contract. She had graduated with honors, had married a handsome, successful architect, and loved sex in a guarded way. But the baby would not happen. The doctors had no explanations. Her husband's sperm were of average count and activity. "In a swimming race," their doctor had said, "your husband's sperm would get the bronze." She had a healthy uterus and her period was loyal to the moon's cycles. But it did not work. "Listen," the doctor had said. "There are some people who just cannot have babies together. We can't always explain it. Medicine isn't perfect."
Still staring at the ceiling, Olivia moved her hips in rhythm with her husband's. She wanted to ask him what he was thinking about, but did not want to interrupt their lovemaking. She lifted herself to her husband, listening to the patterns of his breathing until it was over.
"I love you," she whispered.
"I love you, too," Daniel said.
He lifted himself off her and rolled to his side of the bed. She reached out and took his hand. He was crying. She held him until they fell asleep. When they woke in the morning, both had decided to adopt the Indian baby.
Excerpted from Indian Killer by Sherman Alexie. Copyright © 1996 Sherman Alexie. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Contents1 Owl Dancing,
2 The Last Skyscraper in Seattle,
3 Owl Dancing at the Beginning of the End of the World,
4 How He Imagines His Life on the Reservation,
5 How It Happened,
6 Truck Schultz,
7 Introduction to Native American Literature,
12 Seattle's Best Donuts,
13 Indian Gambling,
16 Greek Chorus,
17 All the Indians in the World,
18 In Search Of,
19 Native American Studies,
20 The Sandwich Lady,
21 Killing the Dragon,
2 Hunting Weather,
1 The Aristotle Hawk Fan Club,
3 The Learning Curve,
5 Big Heart's Soda and Juice Bar,
7 Mark Jones,
8 The Messenger,
9 John Smith,
10 Finding the Body,
11 Fire Starter,
12 The Battle of Queen Anne,
13 Night Terrors,
14 Blank Pages,
15 Mark Jones,
16 The Last Precinct,
19 The Aurora Avenue Massacre,
20 The Elliott Bay Book Company,
22 Slow Dancing with the Most Beautiful Indian Woman on Earth,
23 A Conversation,
24 Mark Jones,
25 How He Imagines His Life on the Reservation,
26 Hunting Weather,
3 Last Call,
1 Mark Jones,
3 Seattle's Best Donuts,
4 Higher Education,
5 Olivia and Daniel,
6 The Searchers,
8 How It Happened,
14 A Conversation,
18 Last Call at Big Heart's,
20 Radio Silence,
21 How It Happened,
25 The Last Skyscraper in Seattle,
31 A Creation Story,
A Biography of Sherman Alexie,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Not his usual story¿this book has an element of suspense. I absolutely loved it, but then, I love everything Alexie writes. The Indian Killer is either an Indian who kills white people¿much like the ghost dance (the Indian killer is the ghost dance, I believe) but it could be read another way¿the white people are the Indian killer, killing Indians left and right with only that same theme of humanity running through their heads: ¿Our way feels so right, so their way must be wrong¿. Alexei does a good job, this is different than his other books, but only slightly: it¿s one part mystery, one part detailed fiction, one part poetry, and one part revolution. Read it. Now.
This was the first Alexie book I read, for an Anthropology class at Purdue - thanks Professor Watson (he is amazing by the way). This is a really dark mystery, involving a series of murders. It deals with racism and hate. Amazing.
Understanding Sherman Alexie is a little complicated, a little conflicting. Listen to him speak and he'll stress that he's just a typical guy, that there's nothing really that mystical about being a Spokane Indian, or American Indian in general. Read one of his works, though, and you'll find his magic oozing between each page. Magic that's woven with tenderness, rage, and humor that's distinctly and unabashedly Indian. Magically real and real magic.Such was my hunch after reading Indian Killer. Much more than a mystery, Indian Killer is an epic construct of the alienated and isolated American Indian, perhaps even just the American experience. Alexie interweaves the interconnectedness of a disparate set of characters, Indian and otherwise, within the mist and cold of Seattle.The main theme of the story deals with the advancement of John Smith, adopted Spokane Indian by a young non-native couple from Seattle into adulthood. Smith is the symbol, the representation of alienation and marginalization, his actions set around a series of violent murders unhinging the city. The greater story, however, concerns itself more around the other archetypes Alexie so often seems conflicted with: the whites who are Indians of the "Wannabe Tribe", the academics who hijack Indian stories, the perpetually exploited and oppressed Indians, and the rednecks who take advantage when the right moment arises.Alexie artfully interweaves each of these elements, while simultaneously providing beautifully rich detail of the setting. His description of Seattle, though not forced, is intensely deliberate. The distinctive neighborhoods, the dank roadways, the huddled yet resilient groups of homeless, the bookstores, and the water that envelops, isolates each.In short, Indian Killer is a masterpiece. Sherman Alexie brings the Indian, but leaves the human imprint on the reader. It's a tragedy that belongs within the realm of magical realism, though savoring the magic within his writing is supremely uplifting.
Once I started, I couldn't put it down. Had to wait for some friends to read it so we could discuss it. I even had the opportunity to meet & talk to Sherman Alexie in Cleveland! Just when you think you know "whodunnit" you never will....
that bit about how the skyscrapers are just giant tombstones just gets me.
I’ve come to expect “disturbing” from Alexi. With the exception of his YA novel, his books have a distinctly dark side.. and this is the darkest yet. It’s not just the graphic violence (which is indeed graphic in places), it’s the despair that stalks every character, from overtly racist talk show host to the clueless white Wannabe Indian author, and from the activist Indian female student to the Killer Indian (btw, calling him “Indian Killer” is, as Marie points out, a misnomer fraught with irony) himself. What’s disturbing? Having my own well-meant prejudices exposed by this perceptive author. Yet as uncomfortable as the book made me, I could not stop reading. On a surface level, I simply wanted to know how this taut, perfectly paced suspense novel would end. A little deeper, I cared about the characters (well, about all but one), whatever their shortcomings (I’ll let you guess which one). Even deeper...I’m not sure yet what this novel touched in me, but it woke something up that won’t go away. I keep thinking about it, can’t get it off my mind. A must-read for Americans of every stripe.
"Indian Killer" is an exciting and thought provoking book that displays the way the society works while creating a thrilling plot to make the story more exciting. The title of "Indian Killer" is an accurate and exciting title because it displays the key points in the story without completely giving it away. In a way, "Indian Killer", is very interesting story that I personally believe anyone would enjoy regardless of age or race.
Sherman Alexie is a fantastic writer. His style is highly approachable. The plot flows well, with a great mix of suspense, drama and dark humor. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good thought provoking mystery.
Secret Killer Sherman Alexie's "Indian Killer" is a great book which I would strongly recommend. It's set in Seattle in the city of Spokane were the main characters, a troubled John Smith a 6' 6", heavily muscled, Spokane Indian and psychotic killer live. The author begins the book describing the main character, John Smith's birth as being difficult and extremely painful for his fourteen year old mother. He details the birth using good imagery, describing the blood gushing from her vagina, painful contractions, and sudden tearing. After his birth, his mother chooses to give him up for adoption to Olivia Smith, a beautiful white women who is dedicated to being a good mother, and Daniel Smith a handsome, strong, white man, a loving father determined to teach their Indian son how to be a man. Eventually, they decided to baptize their Indian son by a man named, Father Duncan, a Spokane Indian, Jesuit, gigantic man, about 7' 2" with delicate hands. Father Duncan was a teacher and close friend to John. He'd share secrets that he made John promise never to reveal. Then one day when John was six years old, Father Duncan took him to a chapel were he showed him a paintings of Indians killing white Jesuits. In this visit Father Duncan explained that a change was occurring inside him to John, who didn't really understand as they stared at the glass. Father Duncan continued his visits until John was seven years old, were one day he disappeared. This disappearance eventually pushed John to certain insanity which was already built up from lack of community, not knowing his heritage and mother. This unstableness in John progresses to the point were he decided that he needed to kill a white man. After he comes to this decision a psychotic killer arises. This killer, kills a white man by devouring his eyes, scalping him, and stabbing him multiple times in the chest. He continues, kidnapping a white boy, Mark Jones, a six year old white boy, with blonde hair and blue-eyes. His killings throw the city into a state of panic. As well as the main character the author includes many side characters as well. Marie Polatkin, an aggressive, beautiful Spokane Indian who attends the University of Washington and constantly challenges the ideas of Dr. Clarence Mather, a professor of the college and Indian wannabe. Reggie Polatkin a half-breed Indian, with long black hair braided into two ponytails, and blue eyes, who was kicked out of the university for assaulting Dr. Mather. This characters are a few of the side characters but you'll have to read the book in order to learn more.
Sherman Alexie can do no wrong by me (except maybe his descent into the Teen and YA genres). Indian Killer is such a unique sort of thriller. It's a beautiful portrayal of anger and madness, and especially of the thin line between the two. John Smith will always have a place in my heart.
John Smith is a Native American who was adopted as a baby by a Caucasian couple. Throughout his life, he is unhappy the way he lives it. He wants to live like a real Indian on a reservation. As a grown man, he lives in Seattle as a lonely man who has depressed life. When a murderer starts to scalp and kidnap white men, a culture clash begins between the Indians and the Whites. John is forced to cope with the conflicts of being an Indian in a city that has become chaotic and in turmoil. Although this book is fiction, the content of it is real. Sherman Alexie's writing flows together and makes a lot of sense, even if readers don't know much about the issues. The writing about the lifestyles of Native American's is portrayed accurately because the author is Native American. It is the real deal and readers who like a good mystery thriller and want to learn a sense of the lifestyle of Native Americans should read this book.
I thought that is was the best book that I read The only book that I didnt quit on for the first time I wish there had been more of the book so that I could have read more
The talent of Sherman Alexie is in my own opinion at an unrivaled state in this country. The book is so utterly gripping in structure that I read the entire work in less than a day, and enjoyed every last word written. The book is absolutely chilling due to several elements which the author included. First, the story of a native man killing white people brings about the nervous sense of a coming apocalypse, as does the stark divisions of the caucasian populace and the native americans of Seattle within the story. The thought of the native peoples'support for the killer, and the uprising of vigilance in the white community adds passion and fear to the book, as does the killers' use of owl feathers as a calling card. I am a Chicano man, and know that I am very strongly rooted in my own type of native culture. Ancient mexican native cultures believed the owl to be a symbol of death, and this belief has stayed very prevalent in my culture as well as many other native american cultures to this very day. Alexies' comparision of the Indian Killer to an owl was frightening at the very least. I may have already revealed too much, so read the book and make your own decision. You will not regret it.
I read this book as part of Junot Diaz's Interpretation of Fiction class. Mr. Diaz himself eventually acknowledged that while Alexie had written previously important works, Indian Killer was a simply awful novel. If you find this to be thought provoking or entertaining I weep for your simplicity.