Book Review: Fly, Colton, Fly

Posted on April 4, 2011

A journalist’s account of the barefoot bandit.

The nation was still pissed at the bankers. Unemployment was at historic lows. Republicans were almost definitely going to take over the house. America needed an anti-hero, and they found it in Colton Harris-Moore, otherwise known as the “Barefoot Bandit”.

Jackson Holtz is a journalist for The Herald of Everett, WA, who followed the story of Colton, and does his best to discern truth from fiction in ‘Fly, Colton, Fly.’

Because Colton was such a good burglar, it is hard to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he was the perp in what appears to be a nation-wide crime spree. He allegedly stole 5 airplanes, eventually flying over 1,000 miles to the Bahamas. Along the way he broke into cars and houses. In many cases, the victims didn’t even know they had been burglarized until the police showed up at their doorstep. Oftentimes, though, he was just looking for food or a place to sleep.

Even more captivating are the family figures surrounding Colton. We have a sneaking suspicion who his father may be, but nobody can track him down. His mother is an alcoholic who was regularly abusive. She is responsible for my favorite scene in the book when the police come to their house and she chops down Colton’s door with an axe. His only real friend was a guy name Harley Davidson (no joke).

Holtz does his best to flesh out Colton, but succumbs to some faux pas. In several occasions he asks questions about the Barefoot Bandit’s sexuality. Why, exactly, did he log onto a site about Twinks? Does he have a genetic abnormality that makes him tall, weird and have a small weiner?

He also can’t stop writing like a journalist. This is an exciting story. Some kid (19 at apprehension) was stealing planes and flying across the country.  But I never felt ‘hooked’. Holtz was really unable to blend all the episodes into a cohesive narrative.

This is not to say that he did not succeed in giving us a well rounded portrait of the modern day Billy the Kid. He also captures the nationwide discussion at the time. On one hand, you had the tale of a modern day folk hero, who stole, ran around barefoot and didn’t hurt anybody. On the other hand, a lot of people were pissed that a guy was stealing things.

The Barefoot Bandit has a really enticing narrative. It’s a story of how he took a community’s innocence. It’s a cautionary tale of abusive motherhood. And it’s a kathartic adventure for everyone who’s just wanted to fly.

As with most crime reporting, in many ways, Fly Colton Fly is better than any fiction you’ll read.

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