Flight, A Review
Sherman Alexie’s Flight is a novel concerned with experience and history. The story is concerned with stepping in the shoes of others. The proverbial walking in another’s moccassins. Alexie doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities that history holds for Indians. He doesn’t justify the actions of evil men even if he humanizes them in the process of telling his story.
Flight follows a teenaged foster child named Zits as he struggles to navigate the torrent of foster care and life. Zits is lost and alone as foster families have focused more on training him than loving him. He’s the wild horse who must be tamed to be acceptable to society. Instead of feeling his value as a human, as a child, he feels treated as an animal who has no control over his own domain. He has no property, so his life is what he fights for. His liberty is what’s at stake.
Zits continues to be transferred from one foster family to another, foresaking the care they offer because he feels devalued. He escapes to drink with other Indians on the streets. He escapes the foster family so he can regain what’s lost; his own identity. However, he finds it nowhere until he meets another kid on the streets named Justice.
Together Zits and Justice drink and connive ways of turning their lives around. The two plan to rob a bank and Zits takes the lead to enter with two guns: one filled with pellets and the other bullets. Zits stands by a potted plant for a bit before he takes his guns out and starts shooting.
At this point, the story flows through time and space. Zits, as a persona, embodies the lives of people throughout history. There’s the white federal agent charged with stopping Indian terrorists in the 60’s. There’s the elderly white scout who is commissioned with leading the calvary to retaliate against an Indian village filled with mostly women and children in the 1800’s. There’s the young Indian boy who previously had is throat slashed, losing his ability to talk, and who is pushed to seek revenge on an innocent white teenager.
Each story is dreadful and finishes with mistakes. Zits’ actions that led to his “time-travel”, if one could call it that, were a huge mistake and it seems he forced to experience the mistakes of others throughout history.
Many of us have grand ideas of how we’d change history if ever given the chance. We have a myriad of ways to kill Hitler or stop the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. History, to us, is alterable. It’s flexible and maleable. Zits is no different and tries at times to change history. He’s torn with trying to steer the calvary away from the Indian village even though he’s ultimately helpless. Despite his attempts, the elderly white scout goes where he’s already gone leading Zits to existential turmoil.
Zits here is experiencing the horrors of Calvinism where the events are already set in stone. They are immovable because they were already decreed to occur. Good and bad, it doesn’t matter. History has decreed the slaughter of Indians and so it will happen.
Now, Zits is only a spectator in the mechanical events of history.
There’s a lot of turmoil in the book and then it all abruptly stops. Throughout the book, Zits questions whether he is in hell continually experiencing other people’s mistakes. When he returns he finds himself in a sort of heaven where he is able to reverse his mistakes and experience the goodness of life.
The story ends well, albeit a little too happy. Yes, the ending is plausable, but for a young man of Zits’ experience it happens too fast. However, there’s much to be said for the new experiences that Zits ran across in his quantum leaps and those experiences alone could be enough for him to make such a drastic change at the end.
Alexie succeeds in creating a story that instructs all on the awefulness of Native history and the hopefulness of Native future. A lot of mistakes were made in the past. The future is full of promising events yet to take place. We choose today how we will live tomorrow. We can’t affect the past, but the future is maleable.