Sherman Alexie | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Sherman Alexie's terrific new novel, Flight (Black Cat), uses a nightmarish premise to explore the human capacity for violence. "I'm dying from about ninety-nine kinds of shame," declares Zits, its 15-year-old protagonist, early on. Abandoned at birth by his Native American father and orphaned when his mother died of cancer six years later, he's lived in 20 different foster homes. With a nickname inspired by a disfiguring case of acne, he's the ultimate outsider, mocked and unwanted when, fueled by anger and empowered by handguns, he enters a bank prepared to gun down anyone in his path. Does he shoot, or is he shot himself? It's unclear, because when he wakes his consciousness inhabits the body of a white FBI agent who's harassing Indians in harrowing fashion in 1975. Zits then comes to inhabit in turn an Indian boy at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, an aged Civil War soldier, a modern-day pilot training a possible terrorist, and a homeless, drunken, bitter Tacoma Indian, who actually is his father. In each of these incarnations he witnesses and/or participates in various cruelties--yet there's a goodness in each character as well. The brutality builds on itself, in cycle after cycle, but Alexie closes on a hopeful note: empathy, even for our enemies, may be the one path to victory over violence. a Fri 5/11, 7 PM, Borders, 830 N. Michigan, 312-573-0564.

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