Flight Patterns by Sherman Alexie, 2003
The magic trick:
Comparing the two men’s narratives
Sherman Alexie Week storms into the 20th century today with “Flight Patterns,” a story that finds the adolescent anger of Alexie’s The Lone Ranger And Tonto story collection (as discussed the last two days on this blog) mostly gone but the quest for identity in the face of self-loathing still alive and kicking.
The key trick here is the compare-contrast offered with the addition of the taxi driver’s life story. Previously, we had access to the backstory and feelings of William, our protagonist. The taxi driver’s background encourages the reader to compare the two men, adding perspective and nuance and poetry to William’s story. Yeah, that’s pretty simple, but it is very effective. So that’s quite a trick on Alexie’s part.
William wanted to hear more of this man’s stories and learn from them, whether they were true or not. Perhaps, it didn’t matter if any one man’s stories were true. Fekadu’s autobiography might have been completely fabricated, but William was convinced that somewhere in the world, somewhere in Africa or the United Sates, a man, a jet pilot, wanted to fly away from the war he was supposed to fight. There must be hundreds, maybe thousands, of such men, and how many were courageous enough to fly away? If Fekadu wasn’t describing his own true pain and loneliness, then he might have been accidentally describing the pain of a real and lonely man.