‘Not enough Indians’ scalps one and all
Of the numerous characters he gives voice to on “The Simpsons,” Harry Shearer never hesitates in saying his favorite is C. Montgomery Burns. That Shearer delights in the misanthropic owner of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant will come as no surprise to readers of “Not Enough Indians,” Shearer’s first novel. The book, like the 100-and-something-year-old Mr. Burns, spends the largest part of its energy on needling, mocking and condescending, so much so that it neglects other components essential to the novel. But, just as audiences aren’t looking to old Monty for their fill of warmth and charm, savvy readers won’t pick up “Not Enough Indians” for character development and redemption. Shearer is in it for the acid humor, and the chance to skewer as many sacred, semi-sacred and completely unholy cows as he can.The setting for Shearer’s story is an inspired one, the contemporary rise of Native American tribes (NatAms, in the book’s lingo) on the back of casino gambling. The paradoxes and hypocrisy are practically built in, but Shearer – who has a history, as an actor, filmmaker and radio performer, of bringing down those aiming for the golden ring – makes no concessions for the ease of this target.
Most aspirational, and thus most vulnerable, are the leaders of Gammage, a failing town in upstate New York that is losing one of its principal sources of income: speeding tickets. Seems a neighboring town has landed the windfall of a NatAm casino, and the resulting traffic has slowed down the cars through Gammage, depriving it of an important cash stream. The result? A town where the lights at the “Exxon” station have been reduced to “XX,” a place even Michael Moore found “‘too damn depressing” to document. The solution? A casino of their own, a proposition which has the Jewish jeans salesman Joseph Katz transforming himself into the casino operator Joseph Catspaw, and the small-town city council – now the Council of Elders, having discovered themselves to be 1/32 Filaquonsett – squeezed into a tight spot between Bureau of Indian Affairs red-tape and hard-knuckled, Vegas-connected slots entrepreneurs.It’s a load of silliness. Fortunately, Shearer’s satire is sharp (of one couple, he notes they had “a model marriage, raised two model children, and then savaged each other in a model divorce”). His one-liners are frequent, and frequently hysterical (the local hospital’s slogan, displayed on a “Simpsons”-like marquee: “Putting the ‘hospitality’ back in ‘hospital.'”) And Shearer’s well of cultural critiques runs deep enough to match Monty Burns’. The one problem there is that it leaves no one in this bunch of Vegas hoods, their nipped-and-tucked women, and recently converted Indians to root for. Shearer has massacred them all.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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An inspirational piece of 20th century artist Herbert Bayer is being installed on the staircase next to Aspen City Hall by his granddaughter, Koko.