Friday, July 11, 2008

Flight by Sherman Alexie

Wow, what a great book! This is the best thing I’ve read in a long time. Flight is heavy and heady, yet thoroughly entertaining and funny. Alexie is a great storyteller. His writing is simple, direct and easy to read, yet he tackles deep issues. Flight focuses on a Native American teen named Zits. He’s ravaged by acne, hopping from foster home to foster home, in and out of trouble with the law and constantly at war with his inner demons. He moves down a path of increasing violence and while contemplating pulling the trigger of a gun in a bank robbery, he has an out-of-body experience and starts time traveling and body shifting. As the book progresses, Zits inhabits the body of an Indian Tracker in the 1870s, an FBI agent rousting militant Indians in Idaho in the 1970s, a mute Indian boy fighting Custer’s men at Little Big Horn, a drunk homeless Indian in the present day and more. He is thrust onto both sides of the Indian/American divide. Ultimately the book is an eye-opening look at cycles of violence and revenge and questions how they can be broken. As an abused and neglected kid, Zits faces this issue in his own life, but as he begins to inhabit the bodies of others, he is forced to grapple with this issue from a larger, historical perspective.

Interestingly, having just read books by Chuck Palahniuk and Jonathan Lethem, reading Alexie was a breath of fresh air. As mentioned in my recent reviews of Palahniuk and Lethem, I feel many modern writers get so enamored by their style and with their research, that their stories suffer. They are so busy being clever, that they ultimately dilute the power of their characters and their stories. Not so with Alexie. The story simply flows out of Zits. As a narrator he’s self-deprecating, funny, and observant. You’re rooting for him from the get go, even when he’s a total screw up. You get sucked into the story and there’s no post-modern nonsense to take you out of the moment. Alexie’s writing definitely conjures up the strong voices of literature—of folks like James Baldwin, J.D. Salinger and John Fante. Storytellers. And damn good ones.

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