Saturday 9 June 2007

16. Flight

Well, I started and finished this one today; it's only about 180 pages and like all of Alexie's stuff, eminently readable. Plus, Brook and I went to see Alexie read tonight at the Toronto Women's Bookstore and I was hoping to avoid being surprised by something he read in the novel that I hadn't yet gotten to.

Instead of reading from the new novel, he read a short story, "South by Southwest," from his best short story collection, The Toughest Indian in the World. Then after he'd read and only one question from the audience was forthcoming he told the longest and funniest and saddest story in the world about being in Norfolk, VA for a reading at a college the day that messed up kid killed all those people at Virginia Tech. (Funny and sad are like two sides of one coin in Alexie's work; he makes me laugh as I'm bawling and vice verse.)

Flight, which was published within the last few months, is about a messed up semi-homeless Indian kid nicknamed Zits who falls under the spell of another messed up but compelling kid (as in will start cults compelling) who convinces him to go on a shooting rampage in a bank.The shooting starts and then Zits is sent back in time to various ignominious moments in American history and witnesses both the terrible things humans do to one another and their surprising graces and kindnesses.

Why is it that the surprising kindnesses make me cry so much more than the cruelties? I'm sad to think it's probably because they surprise me more.

I like Sherman Alexie because he's willing to tackle the worst in our nature head-on but he's also the most hopeful writer I'm familiar with. In the last story in Ten Little Indians, the main character Jackson Jackson exclaims "How many good men are there in the world? Too many to count!" Sometimes I believe that too.

(I don't remember how I first discovered Alexie, but I've been reading his stuff for almost 15 years now.)

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