Thursday, December 20, 2007


At the end of a semester, I'm usually in the mood for a change--something different. Weeks and months of pacing produce the deep craving for interruption--a break from duty-rhythm (in itself, a comment on rhythm of another scale). I am almost there; after tomorrow (the same day I finished with my q. exams one year ago) I will lay off for a week, ease into some consequence-light reading, nap, snack, take walks, watch a couple of Netflix DVDs.

Why not pick up something I wouldn't read but for the desire for a break? Okay, I already did this week. I was moping around the office the other night, nearly giving in to boredom, when D. handed me a copy of Sherman Alexie's Flight (cloud) and said, "Here, read this." What is it? Juvenile literature for book club. One hundred and eighty pages; a couple of one-hour blocks on the couch between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. Quick read. Good, too.

Flight is Vonnegutsy through and through, the story of Zits, a pimply, edgy foster kid whose one-two of violence and defiance keep him bouncing from one terrible foster home to another. The book speeds Zits on a Billy Pilgrimage as he comes unstuck in time, drifting on a Ghost Dance in and out of a series of violent encounters: Custer's last stand, Gus's (conflicted) traitorous revenge, and a couple of others.

"You let him out of his cage?" I ask.
"Well, his wings were clipped."
"A clipped-wing bird ain't a bird," I say.
"All right, all right, Dr. Earth First, I'm not the one who clipped them. He was clipped when we bought him. And it wasn't like we bought him to be a tiny little Thanksgiving dinner. We loved that bird. I loved him. My daughter named him Harry Potter."
"That's cute."
"Damn right, it's cute. You want to hear the cutest part?"
"I'm the cook of the family, the domestic, and Harry Potter loved to sit on my shoulder while I was cooking and insult my food."
"Yes, my wife and daughter told him to say Too much salt and I'm being poisoned and I want pizza instead."
"That's hilarious."
"Yes, it is. And there's more. You see, my daughter's favorite dish is pasta-anything. So I'm always boiling water. And Harry Potter is always sitting on my shoulder."
"Oh, shit," I say, already guessing the end of the story. (145-146)

Flight mixes in commentary on cycles of violence, innocence, and karmic retribution; combines a believably awkward teenage protagonist with his genuine 'whatever's and filthy language (enough that it wouldn't surprise me to hear about the language-chastisers complaining it off the shelves of school libraries). Maybe it's not quite a Slaughterhouse Five of 2007 (the ending is, after all, too nicely buttoned down given the upheaval of everything before it), but it is close: disturbing, insightful, layered. Close enough that you should pick up a copy if, like me, you are interested in a break that includes reading some stuff you wouldn't have any other opportunity to read.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at December 20, 2007 9:30 PM to Reading Notes