3.8 22
by Chang-rae Lee

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The New York Times–bestselling novel by the critically acclaimed author of Native Speaker and A Gesture Life.

At 59, Jerry Battle is coasting through life. His favorite pastime is flying his small plane high above Long Island. Aloft, he can escape from the troubles that plague his family, neighbors, and loved ones on the ground…  See more details below


The New York Times–bestselling novel by the critically acclaimed author of Native Speaker and A Gesture Life.

At 59, Jerry Battle is coasting through life. His favorite pastime is flying his small plane high above Long Island. Aloft, he can escape from the troubles that plague his family, neighbors, and loved ones on the ground. But he can't stay in the air forever. Only months before his 60th birthday, a culmination of family crises finally pull Jerry down from his emotionally distant course.

Jerry learns that his family's stability is in jeopardy. His father, Hank, is growing increasingly unhappy in his assisted living facility. His son, Jack, has taken over the family landscaping business but is running it into bankruptcy. His daughter, Theresa, has become pregnant and has been diagnosed with cancer. His longtime girlfriend, Rita, who helped raise his children, has now moved in with another man. And Jerry still has unanswered questions that he must face regarding the circumstances surrounding the death of his late wife.

Since the day his wife died, Jerry has turned avoiding conflict into an art form-the perfect expression being his solitary flights from which he can look down on a world that appears serene and unscathed. From his comfortable distance, he can't see the messy details, let alone begin to confront them. But Jerry is learning that in avoiding conflict, he is also avoiding contact with the people he loves most.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Whether you find the new book a joyous revelation, an ascent in Lee's career, or a betrayal and a wrong turn depends, I think, on how much you had invested in him as a spokesman for a particular ethnic experience, and in how predictable you like your authors. I appreciate a writer who's not overzealously committed to any one ideology or group, who likes to confound expectations and who feels expansive enough in his spirit and ambitions to encompass not just his close kinsmen but the infamous Other. With Aloft, Chang-rae Lee proves himself just such a writer. — Paul Di Filippo
The New York Times
Mr. Lee creates a pointillist portrait of three generations of a family as it has motored its way from blue collar immigrant hopes to bourgeois respectability to new money indulgence, and in doing so he gently nudges Jerry and his relatives into holding up a mirror to the American Dream in all its glittering and treacherous promise. — Michiko Kakutani
Publishers Weekly
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. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
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 Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
...a brilliant and candid parsing of the dynamics of a family of mixed heritage [and] 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. (starred review)
Kirkus Reviews
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 conclusioncontrasts 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. First serial to the New Yorker. Agent: Amanda Urban/ICM
From the Publisher
Leslie's reading matches the superior writing. Almost immediately he assumes Battle's full persona; he is equally skillful with the other characters, using volume, pitch, nuance, and pauses to great effect. A fine pairing of a superior novel and an exceptional narrator.

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Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter one

FROM UP H E R E, a half mile above the Earth, everything

looks perfect to me.I am in my nifty little Skyhawk, banking her back into the sun,

having nearly completed my usual fair-weather loop. Below is the

eastern end of Long Island, and I’m flying just now over that part

of the land where the two gnarly forks shoot out into the Atlantic.

The town directly ahead, which is nothing special when you’re on

foot, looks pretty magnificent now, the late-summer sun casting

upon the macadam of the streets a soft, ebonized sheen, its orangey

light reflecting back at me, matching my direction and

speed in the windows and bumpers of the parked cars and swimming

pools of the simple, square houses set snugly in rows. There

is a mysterious, runelike cipher to the newer, larger homes wagoning

in their cul-de-sac hoops, and then, too, in the flat roofs of the

shopping mall buildings, with their shiny metal circuitry of

HVAC housings and tubes.

From up here, all the trees seem ideally formed and arranged,

as if fretted over by a persnickety florist god, even the ones (no

doubt volunteers) clumped along the fencing of the big scrap

metal lot, their spindly, leggy uprush not just a pleasing garnish to

the variegated piles of old hubcaps and washing machines, but

then, for a stock guy like me, mere heartbeats shy of sixty (hard to

even say that), the life signs of a positively priapic yearning. Just

to the south, on the baseball diamond—our people’s pattern

supreme—the local Little League game is entering the late innings,

the baby-blue-shirted players positioned straightaway and

shallow, in the bleachers their parents only appearing to sit churchquiet

and still, the sole perceivable movement a bounding goldenhaired

dog tracking down a Frisbee in deep, deep centerfield.

Go, boy, go.

And as I point my ship—Donnie is her name—to track alongside

the broad arterial lanes of Route 495, the great and awful

Long Island Expressway, and see the already-accrued jams of the

Sunday Hamptons traffic inching back to the city, the grinding

columns of which, from my seat, appear to constitute an orderly

long march, I feel as if I’m going at a heady light speed, certainly

moving too fast in relation to the rest, an imparity that should by

any account invigorate but somehow unsettles all the same, and I

veer a couple of degrees northwest to head over the remaining

patchworks of farmland and scrubby forest and then soon enough

the immense, uninterrupted stretch of older, densely built townships

like mine, where beneath the obscuring canopy men like me

are going about the last details of their weekend business, sweeping

their front walks and dragging trash cans to the street and

washing their cars just as they have since boyhood and youth,

soaping from top to bottom and brushing the wheels of sooty

brake dust, one spoke at a time.

confetti of a million cigarette butts, the ever-creeping sidewalk

mosses and weeds; I can’t see the tumbling faded newspaper circular

page, or the dead, gassy possum beached at the foot of the curb,

the why of its tight, yellow-toothed grin.

All of which, for the moment, is more than okay with me.

Is that okay?


I bought this plane not for work or travel or the pure wondrous

thrill of flight, which can and has, indeed, been scarily, transcendentally

life-affirming and so on, but for the no doubt seriously unexamined

reason of my just having to get out of the house.

That’s certainly what my longtime (and recently ex-) girlfriend,

Rita Reyes, was thinking about several years ago, when she

gave me a flying lesson out at Islip for my birthday. Really, of

course, she meant it as a diversionary excursion, just a hands-on

plane ride, never intending it to lead to anything else.

At the time she was deeply worried about me, as I was a year

into having early-retired from the family landscaping business

and was by all indications mired in a black hole of a rut, basically

moping around the house and snacking too much. On weekdays,

after Rita left for her job as a home-care nurse (she now works the

ER), I’d do my usual skim of the paper in front of the TV and then

maybe watch a ladies’ morning talk show and soon enough I’d feel

this sharp nudge of ennui and I’d head to the nearby Walt Whitman

Mall (the poet was born in a modest house right across the

street, which is now something they call an “interpretive center”

and is open for tours) for what I would always hope was the easeful

company of like-minded people but would end up instead, depending

on the selling season, to be frantic clawing hordes or else

a ghost town of seniors sitting by the islands of potted ficus, depressing

and diminishing instances both.

When Rita came back home, the breakfast dishes would still be

clogging the table, and I’d be on the back patio nursing a third

bottle of light beer or else napping in the den after leafing

through my tattered Baedeker’s Italy for the umpteenth time.

She’d try to be helpful and patient but it was hard, as that’s what

she’d done all day long. More often than not we’d end up in a

shouting match because she’d toss aside my guidebook a bit too

casually and I’d say something loose and mean about her mother,

and she’d retreat to the bedroom while I went to the car and

revved the engine inside for a long minute before clicking open

the garage door. I’d find myself at a run-down Chinese place on

Jericho, chasing a too-sweet Mai Tai with wonton soup for dinner

and then phoning Rita, to see if she wanted her usual pupu platter

appetizer and shrimp with black beans, which she would, and

which I’d bring back and duly serve to her, as the saying goes, with

love and squalor.

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Aloft 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Chang-rae Lee's "Aloft" serves as a poignant example for us to be human first, and be successful second. A young retiree assesses his life and legacy over the course of the novel. He realizes how his escapism and indifference to friends and family have embedded him in a series of unfortunate situations, symbolized most effectively by his love of the silent observational trips he makes while piloting his plane. Gradually, as he feels the life he wants slipping away, he throws himself into the task of re-building all his past relationships, with relative success. These lessons come subtly at times, and at others are quite blatant. All are padded by the author's voice, which emerges regularly as almost an amused third party, someone to read along with you, rather than the creator of the tale. Every word is purposeful. Every story told within the larger narrative is meaningful, reinforcing the main points or providing cathartic asides to take the pressure of the moment off for a bit. I came away from this book feeling renewed, refreshed, and wanting to make more from my life than I already have. Highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Phantom sounds like a Deadpool wannabe.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Its really good! A bit vague and hard to follow in places, but i was going fast and it was partly me. If you want an rp to join, join the sewoa rp at sewoa first res. We accept anyone and everyone. Very good! ([Blank])
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Oh yeah!!! Cliffie! This is great keep going!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
That story is really interesting so far! I really wanted to read on to see what happened next!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Life of The Phantom Prologue Phantom sat on the rooftop, gazing out across the ruined city with his "creepy" blood red eyes. Twilight had fallen across the many buildings, ruined and new, elthough the sirens, screaming, and many more disturbing sounds in the air did not cease. These days, they never stopped. Phantom remembered when things were different, much different. Agro City used to be a plave of entertainment, laughter, and peace. But that was before Razor came and ruined it all, ruling the city with an iron boot. 'Razor,' Phantom made a small, angry growling noise in his throat when he thought about that man. If anyone wanted to know why, they could just look around; Razor had ruined the city, turning peace into chaos. Phantom utterly and completely hated Razor, but not just for that one reason; there were many he could name. Razor had only one main obstacle, of which Phantom supported; the other obstacles Razor could deal with easily. That obstacle was The Phantom, an elusive assassin/thief. He stole weapons, cut off supplies, ambushed and killed many of Razor's followers, pretty much just anything to tick Razor off. Phantom smirked instantly, knowing who The Phantom was -- himself. Phantom shook his head to clear his complicated thoughts. He stood up and began to pace across the rooftop. His black assassin's uniform, black-as-night hair, and dark skin made him blend in with the growing darkness that blanketed the city. The moon cast an eerie glow over his dark form, making the metal on Phantom's weapons- including daggers that hung from his belt,the swords strapped over his back, the two hand guns strapped over his chest, and the small knives in his many hidden pockets -gleam dimly. "Well, time to work," Phantom murmured under his breath as night settled completely. He took a running leap and began to jump from rooftop to rooftop. After a while Phantom stopped to study his surroundings. He saw the building he was looking for and smiled. Phantom took a grappling hook from his belt and through it across the roof of the building. He jumped off the roof he was currently on and began to scale the new building. He reached the roof and removed the top of the air vent. Phantom crawled through stealthily, then stopped at one point, looking through the shafts. He studied the many weapons in glass displays, and frowned when he didn't see the one he wanted. 'Oh well, I'll just make do with what I have,' Phantom thought as he crawled out of the air vent and onto the roof again. He took another running leap and practically flew through the air to the nearest rooftop, continuing to move quickly but silently through the city. Soon Phantom paused again on a rooftop, spotting a large, silvery building a yard or two in front of him. 'Bingo,' He thought smugly. He moved closer, though not letting himself be spotted. Phantom removed one of his hand guns, holding it in his hnd, and looked through the glass. He still kept quite a distance away, so he wouldn't be seen by anyone there. Phantom finally saw his target -- one of Razor's head scientists. Phantom smirked, then aimed with his gun where the man stood in the building, making sure he wouldn't miss -- he couldn't afford to miss. "Razor, you made me suffer. Let's just say I'm returning the favor," He mumbled to himself, then pulled the trigger of the gun. ((Uh, so yeah, this is just an experiment...))
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
donnareads911 More than 1 year ago
Great story - if a touch full of "waxing the bat", if you will. Outside of that, it has well-constructed twists. The reader feels empathy for the family - even though it takes awhile to get there. I enjoyed that journey! Ending - well done!
Bethel Tan More than 1 year ago
My mom and I both read this book and we both feel that this book was a great waste of our time.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was so boring I almost fell asleep at every other page. I saw it received such great reveiws that I thought the story would somehow develop to match the reviews. However, this book is all flowery descriptions and the story never develops...typical modern writing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The process of transformation of Jerry Battle, the 59 years old character who is an emotionally unavailable father, lover, and son, made me cry, and laugh, sometimes at the same time. The book took me on a great journey as I quietly applied Jerry's charactertics and struggle to the few people who are important, but distant, in my life. A great read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I liked Chang-rae Lee's first and second novels (NATIVE SPEAKER and A GESTURE LIFE) but ALOFT fails miserably to live up to their promise. The protagonist of ALOFT is Long Island resident, Jerry Battle, an Italian-American. While I applaud Lee for taking a chance in creating a character with an ethnicity totally different from his own (and it can be done and done well), in this case, it didn't work out. While A GESTURE LIFE (which portrayed the life of a displaced Korean man) was gracefully nuanced and the protagonist beautifully characterized, ALOFT is just plain awkward, clumsy and false in all respects. Jerry, who is going through a mid-life crisis, buys a small plane, not for travel or even for fun, but just because he wants to 'get out of the house.' This was laughably funny to me, despite the fact that ALOFT seems to want to be a 'dark' book and take itself so, so seriously. The huge subplot involving Jerry's daughter and her love life and medical problems wasn't interesting or even the slightest bit engaging. Instead of examining her feelings, Lee writes in a very melodramatic, soap operaish style that he seems to want us to find some meaning in. I'm sorry, but I just couldn't. Everything about ALOFT is very thinly drawn...the plot, the characters, the theme. The book actually reads more like an outline than the finished product. There was potential for interesting interaction, but Lee just never took advantage of it. The characters are as thin as is the plot. Lee identifies them only by name and ethnicity. Jerry's Italian-American, his deceased wife, Daisy, was Korean, his son, Jack and daughter, Theresa, is a Korean-Italian-American, his current girlfriend, Rita, is Puerto Rican. Rather than giving us characters with a rich and complex emotional life, Lee relies on ethnicity to do the job and, of course, it doesn't. We never really get to know the characters and truthfully, with the exception of Daisy, I really didn't want to know them. The dialogue (at least Lee wrote dialogue, too many of 'today's' authors aren't doing so) is awkward and clumsy and is used far too often for exposition. As thin and sketchy as ALOFT is, there are, surprisingly, times when it's very, very heavy-handed. These heavy-handed times occur mainly when Lee is attempting to make use of metaphor and symbol. Yes, Jerry does fly solo and we all know we all, ultimately, fly solo through life, but to use this metaphor in ALOFT was sort of like beating the reader over the head with the book. I can't relate well to fiction set in America, to fiction that embraces 'the American lifestyle' or American ideals, so maybe that was part of the problem, but I don't think so because I also know what makes a book 'good' and what makes one 'bad.' I think ALOFT is just a miserably bad book. That's not to say that Lee is a miserably bad writer. He's not. He certainly proved himself with his first two outings, especially A GESTURE LIFE. I can only recommend ALOFT to people who want something so thin to read they don't have to think, to people who aren't at all discriminating about their reading material or to those who love Lee's writing so much they want to read everything he writes, be it good or bad. I just hope Lee returns to form with his next book. Give ALOFT a pass and be happy about it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Chang-Rae Lee has written an inspired novel that is eloquent in its lonely disengagement, which is what most of us experience, if we're honest, with our own heartbreaking families. I recommend this one for anyone who loved Jennifer Paddock's lyrical and similarly cathartic debut, A SECRET WORD.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i thoroughly enjoyed this book a great deal: his writing is always conscious, lyrical and uncanny. yet, i was disturbed by the last review on this site. first, mr. lee is NOT chinese. not all asians are chinese. and i believe that all asiasn are QUITE capable of greatness VERY well beyond the stereotypical limits you have mentioned. please. as i quote lee, control and correct your 'hegemonic colonialist' comments.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have been eagerly awaiting this novel since I finished 'A Gesture Life' and Mr. Lee did not disappoint. I think Mr. Lee is a master of pace and tempo as those two things mirror the main character's life and also become characters themselves. Just like in his two previous books, Jerry Battle is a person concerned with how he is perceived except that Jerry deals with this internally, trying to keep everyone else insulated away from his potential inner turmoil. Instead, what he has done is insulate himself from the full effects of the turmoil around him and from reality. Another brilliant character study and a thoroughly satisfying read. I guess it is back to eagerly awaiting another book.....
Guest More than 1 year ago
Aloft is very gripping and moving. It deals with man heading towards the dusk of his life who is still somewhat unwilling to face the emotions of his life head on. Instead, he escapes. Even when love's leave him, he doesn't face it, he escapes. Even when his daughter (who is pregnant) could die, he doesn't face it, he escapes. I felt myself praying for him to just let go, just to feel something and simply be a part of what was happening to him, instead of running away from it. I read this book very quickly as it keeps you involved nearly every step of the way. I really enjoyed this book. I gave it four stars, instead of five, however, because part of me feels like this story has been done before. The writing is orginal and there are a lot of elements about the story that are unique in themselves, but still I couldn't help but feel like 'oh, this story again' Nonetheless, it is a story worth hearing again as it helps us as individuals cope with our everyday trial and tribulations. Might I advise that you also read Lucky Monkeys In The Sky (by Michele J. Geraldi.)Similar emotions are found in that book, similar 'running' away and incapability to deal with life's difficulties. I think her book is much more original than Aloft, though, as it deals with new problems, outrageous problems, that move you beyond what you thought words possibly could. Read Monkeys first, as soon as you can, because it is something you really should just read for your betterment, and then pick up Aloft and join the BN bookclub. Should be fun to discuss.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Not as good as Native Speaker, but worth reading...