Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Fiction | A Vision Quest Through Time

When I saw the Read Harder challenge required a book "that is by or about someone from an indigenous culture," I knew immediately that I'd be picking a Sherman Alexie book. American Indian history, culture, & society is one of my favorite nonfiction topics, but I don't often read the fiction that represents this group. My only other encounters with Alexie have been either YA (The Absolutely True Diary...) or short stories (The Lone Ranger and Tonto...), so I decided to experience just some general fiction through one of his more recent titles, Flight.

Flight is a small little book that packs some wallop quite quickly. Chapter One, sentence one introduces us to Zits, a half-Irish, half-Indian 15-year-old boy whose nickname, unfortunately, comes from the state of his face. His dad left before he can even remember. His mom died of cancer when he was six. He's been living in foster homes ever since, usually with people who care more about the welfare check he brings than providing a stable, loving home. Zits often gets in trouble with the law, but things get worse once he meets a white kid called Justice who inspires all sorts of query and rebellion, including a particularly hostile act of open fire in a bank that leaves several dead, including Zits.

It's not the end of Zits, though. When he wakes up, he finds himself in the body of a racist FBI agent in the 1970s in Red River, Idaho, the epicenter of the Indigenous Rights Now! movement and ensuing conflict.

And then it's another day, another new world—this time as a young boy living on an actual Indian settlement on the cusp of obliteration by US Calvary forces at Little Bighorn. And next time, on the opposite side of battle, as an old man tasked with wiping out the Indians.

Zits continues through a journey into the past, seeing different sides to history and the varying perspectives of its people. It's an easy story, though one that's actually pretty layered with theme and deep in allegory. It doesn't take much analysis or heavy thinking, but it still feels substantial. It's commendable to the author that though the story flows through time and into different people, the voice remains the same. It's Zits that guides us through the story, and we never lose our grip on him.

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