I read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian last year, my first book by this author. I was very curious to read it since it had received so much attention and made the NY Times bestseller list. It turned out to be one of those books that you feel ashamed for not liking since everyone else in the world apparently loves it, and you wonder what’s wrong with you that you don’t “get” it, ya know? I appreciated what Alexie is trying to do — describe, angrily, what it’s like to be an Indian in the USA today — but his choppy, clunky writing style just didn’t do it for me. As I have mentioned before, though, I don’t generally read YA novels, so I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. He’s writing for kidz today with their short attention spans yadda yadda . . .
Soooo, when I went to the library to choose this week’s book, I found myself browsing in the A’s and I decided to give him another try. Flight looked interesting — it was in the adult section after all — and if Joyce Carol Oates found it “funny, irreverent, sardonic but sentimental” well who am I to argue?
Flight is about a teenage boy, half Indian and half Irish, who has grown up in foster homes since the age of six. He is a juvenile delinquent who’s been in trouble with the law many times. With each successive foster placement he gets angrier and more violent. At the beginning of the novel he has decided to commit mass murder. However, at the very moment when he is about to open fire, he suddenly has a series of out-of-body experiences where he is sent back through time to inhabit various people’s bodies at different key points in American Indian history. From this he learns valuable life lessons about how Violence Is Not The Answer and the book ends with happiness, peace, and redemption for all.
You can see where I’m going with that snarky synopsis, right? I didn’t like this book any better than True Diary unfortunately. It felt much the same. There is way too much telling and not nearly enough showing in this book. And I’m not talking about plot. I’m talking about the emotional state of the narrator, which is extremely fragile. Listen:
I wish I could learn how to hate those rich Indians. I wish I could ignore them. But I want them to pay attention to me.
So I shoplift candy and food and magazines and cigarettes and books and CDs and anything that can fit in my pockets. The police always catch me and put me in juvenile jail.
I get into arguments and fistfights with everybody.
I get so angry that I go blind and deaf and mute.
I like to start fires. And I’m ashamed that I’m a fire starter.
I’m ashamed of everything, and I’m ashamed of being ashamed.
The whole book is like that. Again, I appreciate what Alexie is trying to do. The plight of Indians (he never calls them Native Americans) is shocking in the extreme, and no one cares. This is a story that absolutely needs to be told. I just wish he would tell it with a bit more subtlety.