This was a total impulse purchase. Years ago, I read some positive reviews of Native American author Sherman Alexie’s first collection of short stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. I didn’t read the book, but I later saw the movie Smoke Signals, which was based on the book. I really meant to read the author’s work before just this minute. Then, I walked into a book store, saw the cover of Flight from across the room, and it had to be mine.
Flight is the story of Zits, an orphaned and homeless, half-Indian/half-Irish teenager. Says zits:
Yes, I am Irish and Indian, which would be the coolest blend in the world if my parents were around to teach me how to be Irish and Indian. But they’re not here and haven’t been for years, so I’m not really Irish or Indian, I’m a blank sky, a human solar eclipse.
The only identity Zits can call his own comes from his acne-scarred face. He has been in and out of foster homes and is well known to the law enforcement establishment of downtown Seattle. He finds himself in juvie, where he meets a mysterious inmate who calls himself “Justice.” Once on the outside, the duo begin to flop together in an abandoned building, and then things get weird.
Zits appears to be killed in a misguided bank robbery attempt that he somehow has come to believe will strike a blow against the injustices received by indigenous peoples. “I am still alive when I start to fall, but I die before I hit the floor.” What follows could be described as an empathy fest.
Zits “becomes” a variety of characters in the novel. Their shared characteristic is that they are involved in one side or the other in the history of conflict between Native Americans and the Government. It’s been a long, complicated history, and the novel doesn’t set out to provide any easy answers. Zits’ mixed heritage muddies the waters even further, perhaps allowing for a greater empathy.
Alexie writes crisp, cracking prose that had this reader cranking through this book at a brisk pace. I would have read the whole thing in a single sitting if I hadn’t started it at 11PM. I recommend this one as perfect summer reading with some extra depth.