by MARTY DEMAREST & r & & r & Flight by Sherman Alexie & r & & r & Sherman Alexie's novel Flight begins with the narrator explaining his name: Zits. His real name isn't important, he tells us, as he launches into a chapter-long pity-party that's endurable only because it's fueled by Alexie's language. Zits counts his zits. He wistfully recounts his Irish mother. He dismisses his Indian dad as "from this or that tribe." He disses his foster parents. Clearly, Zits is a painful adolescent.
But because Flight is a quick, large-print 180-odd-page read, it's not long before Zits is headed towards enlightenment and acne medication, thanks to a whirlwind tour through time and space in which he possesses the bodies (and lives, memories) of different people who have been involved with Indians over time.
Flight is headed with a quote from Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, another short time-hopping novel. But Alexie's effort reads more like an Indian A Christmas Carol, with a young and pimply Scrooge.
Initially, the moral tableaux that Alexie creates are vivid and exciting. Little Bighorn as seen through the eyes of an Indian boy. A raid on a frontier Indian camp from the perspective of an old white tracker. During the height of the action, Alexie's voice often emerges with hair-raising poetic passages -- ranting about Custer or describing the brutal massacre of a pioneer family.
Before long, though, the transpositions seem to tire Alexie out. He stops creating scenes and starts stating them. During the fourth or fifth possession (I lost count), he has a character say "I love my wife." Then, because Alexie hasn't managed to bring the reader into the emotional spectrum of the situation, he needs to explain: "Normally, those four words are romantic, right? But right now they're as cold and sharp as an icicle stabbed into the heart."
By the time Alexie starts bringing Zits into the bright new day with a whole lotta learnin' accomplished, he's resorted to sentences such as this tangle of nothing: "Or maybe he's just feeling sorry for himself, and so I can feel him feeling sorry." Not even Alexie's language can propel a novel that's lost its aim, and Flight falls to the ground before it reaches its target.