Book Review: Flight
Before I get into this review, I’d like to make a statement. For those who don’t know, genre fiction is the stuff that most people are familiar with, such as fantasy, science fiction, horror and arguably mysteries and thrillers. These are considered ‘popular genres’ because they reach a larger market than literary fiction. Literary fiction is the stuff that we’re taught to read in schools. Authors like Hemingway, Melville or Hawthorne, just to name a few. Personally, I have chosen to write genre fiction because it’s what I enjoy reading and it’s what I enjoy writing. However, going through college I was constantly told that genre fiction is pure fluff and unworthy of academic attention. Therefore literary fiction was shoved down my throat at every possible opportunity. It’s understandable, then, that this would leave a bad taste in my mouth where literary fiction is concerned. I was convinced that literary fiction was always depressing, vulgar or overly confusing and that those who read it were snobs that would look down on you if you so much as mentioned magic, space ships or literal monsters. However, in my blind crusade to distance myself from literary fiction, I have cut myself off from a great wealth of books that are truly influential and inspiring. So, coming in to Flight without any knowledge of who Sherman Alexie was, and only a minimal description of the plot, I had some reservations and, dare I say, cynicism towards the book. After having read it I can safely say that this is the kind of book that reminds writers of genre fiction why they still need to read literary fiction.
Some might make the argument that Flight contains elements from genre fiction. We start like any modern literary tale with a troubled teenager named Zits. He’s been bounced from foster home to foster home, committing acts of rebellion and vandalism serious enough to land him in jail more than once. Everything is careening downhill and Zits doesn’t care. We are then brought to a breaking point where our hero is gunned down during a crime of hatred. But the book doesn’t end there. In fact, that is only the beginning of this journey. Rather than being dead, Zits soon finds himself inside the bodies of others, and they’re in the past to boot. As he careens from person to person, seeing stories of hardship and betrayal, Zits ever wonders if he’ll ever get back to his own body or finally be allowed to rest in peace.
Flight is an amazing book. It’s one that you can pick up and read through in a relatively short period of time, but during that time you are floored. The book takes twists and turns that puts people of different backgrounds into enough different lights that it accurately portrays how similar we can be, while still being our own person. The book doesn’t jam morals down our throat about how we should treat minorities, but rather portrays both minorities and majorities in an accurate and sympathetic way. Despite Zits troubled nature and the horrors he sees, we are with him from beginning to end, just as curious and horrified as he is. So when you read the final few sentences of the book, you will feel the emotion that he feels.
All of this is underlined by a sharp and direct writing style. Sherman Alexie has a way of telling it like it is (something he does very well in person too). Not only does he do this by stopping for asides and addressing the reading in a conversational tone, but also in his descriptions. He doesn’t spend days describing a death or a violent act, but rather spits them out like facts. In reality violence and death can be sudden and pointless. They don’t get the grand attention that they do in movies and books and his blunt writing style reflects reality in a way that you don’t need the long winded descriptions to understand the weight of the situation. It is brilliant writing and it suits the story beautifully.
Ultimately, Flight is a must read, for anyone. However I’m going to put special emphasis on this book for writers and readers of genre fiction. Granted, not all genre fiction writers are like me. They weren’t all scorned about their writing like I was and maybe they already read literary fiction in their spare time. But in order to write great genre fiction you must have an understanding of literary fiction as well. To cut yourself off from one side of the literary spectrum would be like seeing the world with only one eye: you can get around alright, but your depth perception will be off.
5 out of 5