Saturday, September 27, 2008

He's flying ...

I seem to be listening to more (published for) adult audiobooks than teen lately. I'm glad that publishers are looking critically at their lists to find stuff that they know will have teen appeal. It's often harder to dismiss these as out of age range than the younger stuff ... since, of course, there are teens who exclusively read adult material. This is perhaps the hardest thing that I have to do day-to-day in my job: Try to get into the head of a teenager to figure out if the "adult" subject matter will be of interest to them. Sherman Alexie's Flight seemed like one that got right into a teenager's frame of reference ... and then it seemed to go terribly wrong.

This magic realist (am I using that term correctly?) story tells of 15-year-old Zits -- a half-Indian boy who has unhappily traveled the foster-care road since the death of his mother when he was four (or six? I thought I heard both). He meets a young man named Justice in juvie one night, and eventually makes his way to live with him in an abandoned Seattle warehouse. Justice is very interested in the ghost dance, which -- as I understood it in this story -- promised that every white person killed by a Native American would bring back another Native American from the dead. In this context, Justice convinces Zits to shoot up a bank. After the massacre -- just as Zits is shot in the head -- he transports into another body. Eventually, Zits figures out that he is occupying the body of a white FBI officer in the 1960s (?) who is investigating possible Native American terrorism. Zits makes his way into several other bodies before he makes his way back to his own at the bank ... before he started shooting.

The metaphor of flight occurs frequently in this short novel (not even five hours). And when Alexie starts Zits on his journey, he is spot on as a bright, troubled 15-year-old (definitely a cousin to Junior Spirit) and equally brilliant in describing the confusion and interest that a 15-year-old would take in being in someone else's body. But eventually, those visits (always to adults) become wrapped up in the problems of the adults (marital, substance abuse, middle-age ennui, etc.), and Zits' viewpoint gets lost. And when we do get back to Zits in his own body, the story takes a definite Child Called It turn -- tragedy and abuse begin piling up and then salvation occurs. I realize that A Child Called It is very popular with teenagers -- that's just my personal prejudice emerging (don't you hate it when people condemn books and movies that they haven't read/watched themselves ... that would be me re: It) -- so it's not that I object to in this book; rather it's the lengthy sidetrip into the adult pysche.

The actor Adam Beach read this book. I think I said in my post about Alexie's other book that I might have liked to hear him read The Absolutely True Diary ... because his vocal skills would have been equally "authentic" but more "professional" than Alexie's, due to his acting training. But I didn't really like him reading this. I think this was a personal preference: His voice seemed unnaturally high -- as if he were choosing that register in order to portray and young man -- and I didn't like listening to it. I've seen Beach in several movies and TV shows and I don't recall being annoyed by his voice; I can't recall if his natural speaking voice is that high and thin. Alexie's voice is quite high as well ... perhaps that is an Indian quality, along with that pleasing sing-song rhythm. I'm at Beach's Wikipedia page ... maybe I'll borrow Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and listen closely.

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