81 pages 2 hours read

Sherman Alexie

Flight: A Novel

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2007

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Summary and Study Guide


Pubished in 2007, Flight: A Novel is Sherman Alexie's—one of the best-known and most lauded Native American writers—work of historical fiction and fantasy. Alexie—a Washington State native, like his protagonist—is a noteable poet, novelist, and screenwriter. He both wrote and produced the 1998 film, Smoke Signals, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and won both the Audience Award and the Filmmaker’s Trophy.

Plot Summary

15-year old Zits wakes up in yet another foster home. As usual, he runs away from his foster home and goes to Seattle, where he is arrested. He ends up in a holding cell where he befriends a 17-year old white kid called Justice. When Zits is moved into a halfway house, Justice arrives in the middle of the night and helps Zits to escape. He takes Zits to an abandoned warehouse in Seattle’s industrial district, where they bond and he teaches Zits how to shoot. At night, they stalk the streets and shoot people with their paint guns.

Justice gives Zits two guns—a paint gun and a real pistol—and convinces him to commit a mass shooting in a bank. Zits walks into the bank in downtown Seattle. He believes that he has taken out the actual pistol and is shooting people; he also believes that an armed guard fatally shoots him.

He awakens in a motel bed, sharing a room with a man named Art who claims that Zits is now a white man named Hank Storm. Zits learns that Hank is in the FBI, has a wife and three children, and that the year is 1975. He and Art are infiltrating an indigenous civil rights group called IRON.

Zits teleports out of Hank’s body and ends up in that of a young Plains Indian warrior in June 1876, on the eve of the Battle of Little Big Horn. His father urges him to kill a white teenaged soldier who once cut his throat, taking away his ability to speak. In the midst of this, he teleports into another body—now, he’s Augustus “Gus” Sullivan, an elderly soldier and Indian hunter. It’s still the 19th century. He leads a group of white American troops to an Indian settlement along the Colorado River, where they initiate an attack. In the midst of the chaos, Zits as Gus, spies a young indigenous boy and a white teenaged cavalryman chasing the little boy, who deftly weaves in and out of the crossfire and avoids falling bodies. The soldier catches up with the boy who, contrary to Gus’ expectations, rescues him from danger and runs away with him, toward the distant forest.

Gus mounts a pony and takes off toward the forest; Gus is flung off of the horse and ends up on the forest floor. His back seizes up and he’s unable to move. He remains crippled, as the cavalry approaches the deserters. He encourages the indigenous boy and calvalryman to run away without him. They mount the horse and leave Gus, futilely defends himself with the rifle.

In his next teleportation, Zits enters the body of Jimmy, a pilot living in the post-9/11 world. Jimmy is a philanderer in a state of grief over the loss of his former student, Abbad X, who flew a plane into downtown Chicago and killed numerous people. Wrought with guilt and depression, Jimmy commits suicide by plummeting his own plane into a lake.

Zits next enters the body of a homeless, alcoholic Native American, who he later realizes is his father. Zits finds a mirror and confronts his new self-image, asking the man in the mirror why he abandoned him. He plunges within his father’s mind, forcing him to remember his birth and when he abandoned Zits. Through this body, Zits observes his father’s childhood and the abuse he suffered at the hands of his own emotionally abusive father.

When Zits emerges from his father’s body, he’s back in the present-day, in the bank. He leaves the bank and walks for a while. He ends up outside of a diner, where he notices a police car. He enters and sees Officer Dave with his partner. He announces that he has two guns in his pocket, which lands him in a holding cell yet again.

Officer Dave visits and tells him that he’s going to end up dead. He spends the subsequent months in therapy and undergoing examinations. The authorities determine that he isn’t dangerous, so he ends up in another foster home with Officer Dave’s firefighter brother, Robert, and sister-in-law Mary. With his new family, Zits feels a sense of belonging that he hasn’t felt since his mother was alive. He is touched by Mary’s determination to provide him with structure, to send him to school, and even to provide him with something as mundane but thoughtful as a skincare kit. The latter gesture birngs him to tears; he reveals that his true name is Michael and that he would prefer for Mary to call him Michael.