April 09, 2007

Flight is disappointing

'Flight' by Sherman Alexie

A troubled half-Native American teen goes time-traveling.[I]n the thin, disappointing new book "Flight," Alexie's normally noteworthy prose skills are drowned by a goofy, scarecrow-ragged plot, stock characters and a knock-you-over-the-noggin message better suited to material for high school English classes than the trenchant fiction he's written before.

Despite the novel's flaws, though, Alexie still punches hard at any number of targets, be it stupid white people, self-destructive Native Americans and, implicitly, a violent culture dedicated to a deadly mixture of self-absorption, ignorance and callousness. Through Zits, he speaks plainly and firmly, whether holding court on the inanity of Custer ("a crazy egomaniac who thinks he is going to be president of the United States") or the phenomenon of televised paint gun competitions ("fake fights where fat white guys run around fake battlefields and shoot each other with balls of Day-Glo dye").
"Flight" | Time traveling with Sherman AlexieZits is no Ishmael, and there is no great white whale on the horizon, unless you count the bloodthirsty giant that is American history. And while it doesn't aspire to be "Moby-Dick," this slim parable does have an air of self-importance that works against it, undermining the author's trademark humor.

In the end, with its warm message and its tidy resolution of Zits' problems, this slender collection of time-traveling vignettes feels almost like a juvenile novel (in fact, according to Alexie's Web site, he is working on a young adult book). That isn't a bad thing—in fact, I think it would be a great book for teenagers. But as a work of adult fiction, it doesn't really add up to a resonant whole. The moral of the story is a little too neat, and despite the affirming theme about walking a mile in someone else's shoes, we never get very far under the skin of anyone but the narrator.

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