Sunday, May 3, 2015

Flight, by Sherman Alexie

Flight is somewhere between a novel and novella. It is narrated by a teenage boy known as Zits (for the obvious reason). Zits is a foster child whose white mother died when he was six and Native American father abandoned him even earlier. Zits has all the issues you would expect in someone with that profile. When he ends up in a cell with the "United Nations of juvenile delinquents," he falls under the influence of a violent white teen called Justice. When the two get out of detention, they live together in a Seattle squat, learning how to fire guns, engaging in philosophical and political conversation, and venting their anger toward all those who have victimized them. Soon, Zits finds himself in a bank with two guns in his pockets, ready to kill as many people as he can.

The book then takes a turn for the surreal, as Zits is suddenly time traveling--first he is in the body of an FBI agent in the 1970s, part of a plot to assassinate Indian activists. From there, he finds himself a mute Native American boy in the encampment of warriors preparing to take on Custer and his men. In rapid succession, he becomes an Indian tracker in the mid-18th century, a flight instructor who taught a terrorist to fly, and Zits' own derelict father. When he reenters his own body, he finds himself staring at a small boy in the bank. Having seen violence in a variety of repulsive forms in this-traveling, he leaves the bank and turns himself into Officer Dave, who has shown interest in him in the past. Dave sees that Zits gets therapy and then arranges for him to live with Dave's brother and his wife. In this nurturing environment, Zits reveals his real name--Michael--and begins to hope that he has found a family.

Sherman Alexie has a gift for developing male characters, and Zits is no exception. Flight is thin on plot, but I was somewhat intrigued by its look at why the male adolescent might see violence as a solution when he feels betrayed and abandoned by every societal institution and how that view might be altered by a visceral experience with the effects of violence in different forms. The ending feels a bit too pat, though it's certainly comforting to think that solutions for young people like Zits are that easily achieved.  This is definitely not my favorite Sherman Alexie work, but not without some rewards.

Favorite quotes:
What kind of life can you have in a house without books?

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