I hate to travel. And my extreme intense dislike for flying is a big, big part of that. Well that and the fact that most of my traveling is for business, which is not enjoyable or fun or anything I look forward to, even to a place like Scotland, which I got to visit last week, unfortunately for business. The flight there was horrible, not because of any issues with the flying itself but because I was sick as a dog, I'd been recovering from a week's worth of flu/cold or something but I thought I was better until I got on the plane and it hit me, almost immediately, in the throat and the head and the nose and then it was 7 straight hours of debilitating pain. I watched Sherlock Holmes in flight but I was so sick I couldn't even finish it and then I lay there, for hours, trying to catch some sleep to put me out of my misery, but it didn't come, and when the plane landed it was 7 am (Glasgow time) and I had to spend the day working, not getting back to my hotel room until close to 5. I'd been up for some 32 hours straight. I'd been sick all day and night. And I was in no mood to see any part of Scotland. But after a too brief nap in which a few moments of sleep kept getting interrupted by coughing fits, I got up and washed up and took a walk to one of the dozens of eateries in Ayr, the town where I was staying, to try to get some enjoyment out of my night (and to get enough drinks in me that I might actually be able to fall asleep without coughing). I brought along the book I'd been reading -- the one I'd grabbed just as I left for the flight, a "backup" in case I finished the other book I'd been reading -- and as I sat in a beautiful little cafe called Saffy's, eating the most wonderful dish of sea bass I'd ever eaten (possibly because I'd never eaten sea bass before), I opened the novel and read it all the way through. I slept well that night and had a pretty good rest of my week, the best week of business travel I've had in longer than I can remember, but the best part of the week remains that meal at Saffy's, drinking a pint of Peroni, and reading Sherman Alexie's aptly titled novel Flight.
There's something coolly European about sitting in a cafe at night, sipping on a drink and just reading, surrounded by strangers in a strange land and lost in a wonderful story about strangers in a strange land, absorbing it all. For a writer, or a wannabe writer like me, it's a wonderful experience and one I tried to emulate later that week in a couple other pubs, with my other book, but I couldn't quite capture that feeling. I was probably delirious from a lack of sleep or the fact that my symptoms had cleared in the presence of fresh air and beer and seafood. But also, I couldn't stop reading Flight. I'd already finished it the first night I arrived.
Sherman Alexie is a rather well-known literary force but my only experience with his writing was the young adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which I read for one of my writing classes a couple years ago and really loved. After the class, I noticed on Amazon that he had a new novel out (this was 2007), which may or may not have also been geared for teenage readers, called Flight, and I bought it, hoping to recapture the magic I felt by reading his classic Part-Time Indian. But like a lot of the books I buy on Amazon and then never get the chance to start because life gets in the way, Alexie's novel sat in a stack in my closet and never got read. When I was leaving for this trip, though, I had just started Michael Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road (also excellent by the way), but I'd just finished Michael Lewis's The Big Short and Cory Doctorow's Makers so I needed a new book to take with me in case I finished the Chabon volume while on the road (no pun intended). I'm usually reading at least 3 or 4 different books at once (1 or 2 fiction and 1 or 2 non-fiction, all on different subjects, obviously) but like I said, I was without a backup and I hadn't bought anything new recently, so I went into my closet for the stack of unread volumes and for whatever reason, Alexie's Flight spoke to me as I headed for the airport to make my flight. And it ended up making my whole trip.
It's not an easy story to describe, at least without making it sound ridiculous. And I'm sure my description won't prompt you to read it, but it's basically the story of a teenage half-Indian orphan who calls himself "Zits" (because his face is filled with acne) and how an attempt to shoot up a bank ends with him traveling through time to various murderous moments in Native American history, inhabiting the bodies of a bunch of disparate white and Native American characters, most of whom are much older than him, although one is younger. It's um... yeah, I said it was strange. But it's fucking wonderful. Like seriously, you would not read a story like that if I described it to you, but it's really just so captivating and brilliant and written so well. The teenager narrates the story, and perhaps that's why it captivated me so, since I'm currently writing a story with a teenage narrator, but he's got a very appealing voice and a way of looking at the world that he becomes instantly likable even as the opening pages tell the tale of his getting kicked out of 20+ foster homes for a wide variety of minor crimes. He ends up meeting a white kid in prison who becomes his sort of messiah, and who oddly convinces him that all that is wrong with his world can be fixed if he just goes into a bank and randomly starts shooting people... which Zits does, and then time travels. And the Flight of the title has just begun. I won't give any more details about the plot other than the ending explained a whole hell of a lot more than the Lost finale did, but I highly recommend the novel for anyone reading, anyone interested in a good and very original story told well. It's only 180 pages and written quite probably for a young adult audience so it will be easy for you to read in a single sitting, such as at a cafe in a foreign country when all you want to do is be home, but instead you find yourself lost in another world for a little while, and not minding it at all.