Fat Books & Thin Women

Story Sunday: Sherman Alexie’s “What You Pawn I Will Redeem”
September 4, 2011, 11:49 am
Filed under: Story Sundays | Tags: , , , ,

Story Sundays is a weekly feature at Fat Books & Thin Women. Always short stories, always ones available online for free.

The narrator of Sherman Alexie’s “What You Pawn I Will Redeem” is Jackson Jackson or Jackson Squared, “a boring heartbreaker”, the sort of man who backs out of women’s lives rather than disrupting them with dramatic or noticeable exits, a homeless Spokane Indian in Seattle.

It is hard not to go into a Sherman Alexie story expecting a lot, but he never fails me. Jackson Jackson is an eloquent narrator, a tour guide to the types of homeless Indians in Seattle, where they have come from and where they are going. As a cop observes, Jackson Jackson’s humor is remarkable for a man who’s been homeless for six years; that humor seems to grow out of the entirely unromantic image he has of himself. He considers himself an “effective homeless man,” and writes that “Being homeless is probably the only thing I’ve ever been good at.” He even manages to joke about himself from a historical perspective, though the fact that Junior (of the following quote) dies of exposure is a crushing reminder that the Before Columbus Arrived Indians and the After Columbus Arrived Indians all end up in the same place:

If you put Junior and me next to each other, he’s the Before Columbus Arrived Indian and I’m the After Columbus Arrived Indian. I am living proof of the horrible damage that colonialism has done to us Skins.

“What You Pawn I Will Redeem” is a journey devoted to Jackson Jackson’s attempt to buy back his grandmother’s tribail regalia, which he recognizes in a pawnshop window despite never having seen it outside of a photograph. He’s able to identify the regalia, which was stolen from his grandmother, and is given 24 hours by the pawnshop owner to find $999 ($1 less than the man paid for the regalia) to buy it back.

If Jackson Jackson’s story is a mini, day-long Odyssey, it’s one with even more digressions than in the original. He finds money, he spends money, he finds money, he spends money.

What runs through this story, what holds it together, is Jackson Jackson’s unfailing humor and belief in his ability to get the money together, even as he spends $25 of his last $30 on a meal. It’s that, and the kindness of the people whose lives intersect with his, and the image of a man reborn, whether he continues to sleep on the streets or not.

Read “What You Pawn I Will Redeem”

 Subscribe to the Fat Books & Thin Women feed



I just love Sherman Alexie. I need to read more of him. Thanks for the reminder!

Comment by jenn aka the picky girl

Jenn just posted *exactly* the comment I was about to post.

I had to read Indian Killer for a class and I remember thinking, “Wow, this book is really messed up but I would read it again in a heartbeat.”

Comment by ohemgillie

Would it be consummately nerdy to say my bookish heart skipped a beat when I saw you’d reviewed this story? It’s one of my favourites, of all time. I love how it treats with entitlement and displacement in these marvellously funny, yet supremely heart-wrenching ways. Oddly, it’s the only Sherman Alexie I’ve read. Seeing your post reminds me that I must remedy that. :)

Comment by Shivanee @ Novel Niche

I was struggling to find a story that I really liked for this week’s post – I was reading story after story, not loving any of them, and then I remembered Sherman Alexie and a few sentences in that I had read this one before. Like Jenn wrote, I am always meaning and failing to read more of Alexie’s work; but every time I do I’m stunned by his writing and the way, here, he is able to so radically alter the way we look at a group of people.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

Comments are closed.