Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Review: Flight

Flight Flight by Sherman Alexie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Most of the time I was reading this, I heard myself categorizing it as “Young Adult fiction on a serious theme.”

For a while I couldn’t figure out why it felt so “young adult,” and then I found myself arriving at a definition for the term: Young adult literature feels as it does because its aim is to frame questions rather than analyze them. It’s real act of insight for a 12-year-old to frame the core questions of life: how do we deal with disappointment, with the awareness that we are not as central to the universe as we might like? How, given that, should we treat others? And how do we keep from despairing as we live in the space between all we could want for ourselves and the comparatively little that we do get?

It’s less insightful for an adult to come to such a question, particularly an author who’s explored the same themes – complicated by the particular fact of Native-American life in late 20th, early 21st Century America – more thoughtfully elsewhere.

In other words, this isn’t a bad novel, but it sometimes feels condescending. Zits is a generally uninspired kid. We’re not supposed to like him because he hates himself so much. Props to Alexie for giving us a protagonist who is initially so unlikeable, but the shape of the novel gives the impression early on that we’re going to see him redeemed. We know it’s coming, so the heart of the novel – his spinning “flight” across time and identity as he experiences the world from different perspectives – loses some of its effectiveness. He inhabits other bodies in a series of experiences that seem as much like a class syllabus as a genuine adventure.

I don’t want to ‘spoil’ the conclusion, but, if you’ve read a decent amount in your life, then you know what’s happening with it. And, again, it’s young adults who haven’t read all that much, so the book is clearly aimed at them.

Alexie has the capacity to draw scenes well, and that’s a virtue. He also gives his character a deadpan set of reactions – claiming things like “she was very pretty” or “I must have been crazy to think…” – that work against it.

I’m glad to see Alexie plumbing the life of a kid who’s torn between his Indian and white identities. It may well do good things for its intended audience, but I guess I’m looking for more myself.

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