A few weeks ago I went to my local library. I had to return a book, my third in a row from Rachel DeWoskin. I had tried, unsuccessfully, to renew it for a second time but, to my horror, somebody had dared to put a hold on it!
Let me confess right here that I am a terrible library patron, always renewing books and movies, even magazines, several times, while they sit on my bedside table waiting for me to read them or watch them. But it was hopeless this time, so I went to the library on my way back from work to return the book. I reluctantly put it on the return slot. When I stopped reading, Rachel was about to enter a Beijing TV studio and become a Chinese soap opera star.
I felt bereft, I had no book lined up to follow this “premature” return. But I shouldn’t have feared. The Terry Fox library in Port Coquitlam was still doing the mystery bags. Again, they had them all lined up ready to go on the counter. Of course, I grabbed one.
The titles this time were:
The Pale King, by David Foster Wallace
Invisible Monsters Remix, by Chuck Palahniuk
A Hologram for the King, by Dave Eggers
Half Blood Blues, by Esi Edugyan
Flight, by Sherman Alexie
A very impressive and exciting list. But as I really didn’t know where to start, I just grabbed the one with the most unappealing cover. I told myself: this is probably going to be my favourite book on this pile.
So I jumped from 1990’s Beijing to the story of a Native American teenager called Zits. He is an orphan, and when the story starts he has just moved in with his new foster family. Flight, by Sherman Alexie, is the brilliant time travelling story of a young kid in search of his ancestors. After committing a terrible crime, Zits travels back in time to a pivotal moment in contemporary Native American history. After a shocking discovery, he keeps time travelling to a different time and place and inhabiting the body of somebody different each time.
By making Zits inhabit different bodies and experience many different points of views, Alexie helps the reader sympathize with each of the characters and their suffering, and to see more clearly their motivations and reasoning. By doing this, Sherman Alexie effectively demonstrates the power of finally understanding the other side of the story, what the powerful revelation of really getting somebody else’s point of view feels like. We know the story is never, ever, one sided; why do we forget this all the time?
Beaten up, shaken, exhilarated and illuminated by the thoughts and feelings of others (including a FBI agent, an old, pain-ridden “Indian tracker”, and a mute Indian boy forced to commit a horrible act of revenge), Zits finally comes to terms with his situation, his history and more importantly, his future-what he will decide to become.
The richness, depth and beauty of this novel, though short and very funny, cannot be overstated. Alexie touches on some very serious issues and effortlessly blends historical events and commentary on race and Native American history with the fantastical transformations and reflections of Zits as he moves through time.
Even though I was only able to read two and a half books from this pile, I’m glad I picked Flight. Sherman Alexie and his words took me on a flight through laughter and some real, heartbreakingly beautiful, poetic moments.