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Aloft /

Main Author: Lee, Chang-rae.
Format: Book
Language: English
Published: New York: Riverhead Books, 2004
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Review by Booklist Review

At 59, Jerry Battle takes great comfort in the orderliness of the aerial view as he flies his small plane above Long Island, where his Italian American family has run a landscape business for generations, and the fact is, Jerry is always somewhat airborne. He suppresses his feelings, avoids confrontation, and, although he's physically present for his still-virile elderly father and his adult children, he is always out of reach. But gravity is a relentless force, and over the course of just a few months, Jerry is pulled inexorably into a snarl of family catastrophes, reaping the consequences of his indifference toward the family business, his inability to come to terms with his wife's death, and his failure to ask the woman he loves, Rita, to marry him, even though she essentially raised his son, Jack, whose questionable financial shenanigans will destroy the family business, and his daughter, Theresa, whose progressive views evaporate in the face of her cruel fate: she's diagnosed with cancer at the same time she gets pregnant. Lee follows the stunning A Gesture Life (1999) with a brilliant and candid parsing of the dynamics of a family of mixed heritage--Jerry's wife was Korean, as is Theresa's intended, and Rita is Puerto Rican--while simultaneously offering a ribald look at male sexuality, a charming celebration of the solace of good food, and a sagacious and bitingly funny critique of our times. There is no escape, Lee reminds us, no rising above. We have no choice but to cope with fleshy, chaotic, and bittersweet life right here on earth. --Donna Seaman Copyright 2003 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Lee's third novel (after Native Speaker and A Gesture Life) approaches the problems of race and belonging in America from a new angle-the perspective of Jerry Battle, the semiretired patriarch of a well-off (and mostly white) Long Island family. Sensitive but emotionally detached, Jerry escapes by flying solo in his small plane even as he ponders his responsibilities to his loved ones: his irascible father, Hank, stewing in a retirement home; his son, Jack, rashly expanding the family landscaping business; Jerry's graduate student daughter, Theresa, engaged to Asian-American writer Paul and pregnant but ominously secretive; and Jerry's long-time Puerto Rican girlfriend, Rita, who has grown tired of two decades of aloofness and left him for a wealthy lawyer. Jack and Theresa's mother was Jerry's Korean-American wife, Daisy, who drowned in the swimming pool after a struggle with mental illness when Jack and Theresa were children, and Theresa's angry postcolonial take on ethnicity and exploitation is met by Jerry's slightly bewildered efforts to understand his place in a new America. Jerry's efforts to win back Rita, Theresa's failing health and Hank's rebellion against his confinement push the meandering narrative along, but the novel's real substance comes from the rich, circuitous paths of Jerry's thoughts-about family history and contemporary culture-as his family draws closer in a period of escalating crisis. Lee's poetic prose sits well in the mouth of this aging Italian-American whose sentences turn unexpected corners. Though it sometimes seems that Lee may be trying to embody too many aspects of 21st-century American life in these individuals, Jerry's humble and skeptical voice and Lee's genuine compassion for his compromised characters makes for a truly moving story about a modern family. Agent, Amanda Urban. Foreign rights sold in France, Germany, Holland and the U.K. (Mar.) Forecast: Comparable to Updike's later Rabbit novels and Begley's About Schmidt, Aloft broadens Lee's scope and should bump his sales and reputation up another notch. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

In his third novel (after Native Speaker and A Gesture Life), Lee applies his remarkable storytelling skills to create a monstrous first-person narrator. Not that retired Long Island businessman and part-time travel agent Jerry Battle is a murderer, sexual predator, or any sort of criminal according to law. However, his defect is both serious and destructive: he is an emotional miser, distancing himself from others and keeping himself above the risks of emotional involvement. Not completely without insight, Jerry recognizes the irony and symbolism of his favorite pastime, soaring solo in his private plane-but only in clear weather. He could not be less prepared when virtually every element of his personal life goes haywire simultaneously: his longtime lover walks out, his dad disappears from an assisted-living home, his son dangerously overextends the family landscaping firm, and his pregnant daughter contracts a terminal illness. Jerry's graceless yet sometimes endearing attempts to cope with these disasters (and their attendant reminders of the bizarre death, decades before, of his beautiful Korean American wife) round out a masterly portrait of a disaffected personality. Unfortunately, the other characters, seen solely from Jerry's self-absorbed viewpoint, are often little more than two-dimensional foils for Jerry's worries and obsessions. Still, Lee's radiant writing style will please fans of his earlier fiction, and the plot will interest readers who liked Louis Begley's About Schmidt. Recommended for larger collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/03.]-Starr E. Smith, Fairfax Cty. P.L., VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

An introspective widower rises above his "habit/condition of disbelieving the Real"--in this generously ruminative third novel. Its predecessors (Native Speaker, 1995; A Gesture Life, 1999) explored the comedy and pathos of assimilation into American culture with a compassionate precision here lavished on almost-60 Jerry Battle (born "Battaglia"), whom we first meet "aloft," in the small private plane to which he retreats from quotidian pressures. Not unlike the transplanted Asians of Lee's earlier books, he's an ingredient in a rich multiethnic mix. Since the drowning death (in the family pool) of his Korean-American wife Daisy 20 years earlier, Jerry has had a gratifying affair with Puerto Rican beauty Rita Reyes, now his ex--and maintained close if wary relationships with his son Jack (who runs, and has significantly expanded the Battles' landscaping business) and daughter Theresa, a literature professor engaged to, and pregnant by, Asian-American writer Paul Pyun. What energizes Lee's very deliberately paced fiction is the accretion of detail with which his closely observed characters' shared and separate experiences and worlds are created. We feel we know everything about decent, caring Jerry (still hungry for life--and quite reminiscent of several John Updike narrators), gutsy Theresa (whose serious illness threatens her pregnancy and her life), Paul's quiet strength, Rita's spirited independence, Jack's frustrating combination of profligacy and resilience, and--in a triumphant characterization--Jerry's ornery octogenarian father Hank, too alive to be contained by the assisted living center where he reluctantly resides or by Jerry's disapproving concern. Aloft's muted conclusion contrasts tellingly with its opening image, as Jerry hunkers down in the hole dug for a new pool, at peace with his "finally examined and thus remorseful life . . . [and resolved that] I'll go solo no more, no more." Beautiful writing, richly drawn characters, and a powerful sense of life enduring in spite of all. A fine and very moving performance. Copyright ┬ęKirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.