Aloft [With Earbuds]

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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. ...
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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.

Written with a captivating urgency, Aloft is a witty social critique of contemporary suburban America and a deft portrait of a man struggling to balance his responsibilities with his freedoms. It is the story of Jerry Battle learning to cope with life's messy details, and the redemption he finds when he finally chooses to immerse himself in them.
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Editorial Reviews

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
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
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
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781616374112
  • Publisher: Findaway World
  • Publication date: 3/28/2010
  • Format: Other
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 7.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Chang-rae  Lee

CHANG-RAE LEE, the author of A Gesture Life and Native Speaker, was selected by
The New Yorker as one the twenty best writers under the age of forty. He teaches creative writing at Princeton University.


Chang-rae Lee landed on the literary scene with Native Speaker, a detective story about much more than just another crime. Detective Henry Park grows too attached to those he investigates as he discovers the connection between broad social questions and his personal failings. Critics responded, and Lee's debut received a string of recognition, including a Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. Biography/Critical Appreciation Everyone agrees that Chang-rae Lee is a writer to watch. His debut novel, Native Speaker, (1995) won the American Book Award and the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. Plus, two literary cornerstones, The New Yorker and Granta, named him one of the twenty best American writers under forty.

Lee and his family emigrated from Seoul, South Korea to the United States in 1968. His family settled in Westchester, New York, and Lee eventually attended Yale and the University of Oregon, where he earned his M.F.A.

Native Speaker is a story about a Korean-American detective, Henry Park, whose investigative eye is eventually turned upon himself. The novel takes a challenging look at Park's effort reconcile his two cultures in an even larger culturally diverse setting, New York City. The language is simple, yet the reader is allowed a deep and intriguing look inside the head of the main character, the politics that affect him, and his struggles with love and cultures. The New York Times called Lee's debut "highly original," and the Literary Review raved, "... Native Speaker seems like a new kind of novel, the plainsong of unassimilated man, and in the murmur of his nascent voice is the soft clash of borders."

In 1999, Lee's second novel, A Gesture Life continued the themes of identity and assimilation. Lee wrote the novel over the course of four years, although it was originally about the experience of a Korean "comfort woman," forced to sexually service invading Japanese soldiers. Lee traveled to Korea and interviewed surviving comfort women, but two years into the novel, one of the characters, previously considered a minor one, captured Lee's imagination and wouldn't let go. Remarkably, Lee abandoned everything he had written except for one character -- Doc Hata.

Franklin "Doc" Hata is a reserved, older physician, Korean by birth, raised in Japan, and now living in New York City. Only after much needling by his daughter, Doc Hata begins to reveal his painful secrets: his time as a medic in the Japanese army during World War II, his love for one of the Korean comfort women, and the guilt that has kept him silent for most of his life. It's an unforgettable story, and The New York Times called the book "... a work of astonishing psychological acuity and compassion."

With the 2004 release of Lee's Aloft, once again, readers are treated to a portrait of a man in the throes of a reconciliation. Readers who expect Lee's novels to deal exclusively with Asian Americans will be pleasantly surprised to see the author flex his writing skills with the creation of Jerry Battle, the semi-retired head of a (mostly) white Long Island family. On the ground, Battle is inundated with family bickering, his upcoming 60th birthday, and the mystery surrounding his wife's death. Aloft in his small private plane, Battle escapes all of this, although only temporarily. His is the story of how to cope with responsibility -- to the past, and to the unknown.

Lee a writer and a teacher, as well as the director of the M.F.A. Program at Hunter College of City University in New York City. Those fortunate enough to be his students get to learn from the man who knows the stuff of human nature -- that the aftereffect of any act is the core of every great story, and that even the most conventional characters can bear the weight of unconventional story lines.

Good To Know

"If I weren't a writer," Lee reveals in our interview, "I'd probably be working in the food and/or wine business, perhaps running a wine or coffee bar -- or even an Asian noodle soup shop."
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    1. Hometown:
      Princeton, New Jersey
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 29, 1965
    2. Place of Birth:
      Seoul, Korea
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English, Yale University, 1987; M.F.A. in Creative Writing, University of Oregon, 1993

Read an Excerpt


FROM UP HERE, 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 church-quiet and still, the sole perceivablemovement a bounding golden-haired 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.

And I know, too, from up here, that I can't see the messy rest, none of the pedestrian, sea-level flotsam that surely blemishes our good scene, the casually tossed super-size Slurpies and grubby 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.

All this began occurring too regularly and finally Rita told me I had better get into something to take up my time, even if it was totally useless and shallow. Immediately I thought maybe it was finally time I strapped myself into a convertible sports car or fast boat, some honeyed, wet-look motor that the neighbors would gape at and maybe snicker and whisper micropenis about and then pine after, too, but I wanted something else, not quite knowing what exactly until the moment I opened the gift certificate from Rita for Flaherty's Top Gun Flight School.

I must say I was nervous that day, even downright afraid, which was strange because I've flown in hundreds of planes, some of them single-engine like this one and certainly not as kept-up. I could hardly finish my breakfast toast and coffee. I kept trying and failing to pee, all the while thinking how it was that a person should die exactly on his birthday, how maudlin and rare, and so also a bit pathetic if it actually did happen, especially if you weren't someone famous, all of which Rita caught on to, fake eulogizing me all morning with hushed phrasings of "And he was exactly fifty-six...."

But I could tell she was worried, too, for she wouldn't kiss me or even look me in the eye when I was leaving for the airfield, hardly glancing up from her cooking magazine as she murmured a casual, if all swallowed-up, goodbye. Sweet moment, potentially, as it should have been, with me supposed to drop my car keys back into the loose-change bowl and saunter over to Rita in my new aviator shades and cup her silky butterscotch breast through the opening of her robe and assure us both of the righteous tenure of our (then nearly twenty) years of devotion and love; but what did I do but mutter goodbye back and mention that I'd be home in time for lunch and could that osso buco she'd made two nights ago be heated up with extra orzo, or maybe even some couscous with snips of fresh mint? Rita, of course, responded with her usual "No problem," which anyone else even half-listening would think was a dirge of pure defeat and trouble but was long my favorite tune.

So I drove off with my sights set high again, for there's little else more inspiring to me than the promise of a hot savory meal prepared by a good woman. But the second I entered the private plane entrance at MacArthur Field and saw the spindly wing struts and narrow fuselages of the parked Pipers and Cessnas, my heart caved a little and I thought of my grown children, Theresa and Jack, and immediately speed-dialed them on my cell phone. I was ready to say to each the very same thing, that I was deeply proud of their accomplishments and their character and that I wished I could relive again those brief years of their infancy and childhood, and then add, too, that I would never burden them in my decline and that they should always call Rita on her birthday and holidays.

But then Theresa's English Department voice-mail picked up, not her voice but the ubiquitous female voice of Central Messaging, and all I could manage was to say I hadn't heard from her in a while and wondered if anything was wrong. Next I got Jack's voice-mail, this time Jack's voice, but he sounded so businesslike and remote that I left a message for him in the voice of Mr. T, all gruff and belligerent, threatening to open a big can of whoop-ass on him if he didn't lighten up.

This, too, didn't come out quite right, and as I was still early for the flying lesson, I called my father, who would certainly be in.

He answered, "Who the hell is this?"

"It's me, Pop. How you doing?"

"Oh. You. How do you think I'm doing?"

"Just fine, I'm betting."

"That's what you want to think. Anyway, come down and spring me out of here. I'm packed and ready to go."

"All right, Pop. The nurses treating you well?"

"They treat me like dog shit. But that's what I'm paying for. What I worked for all my stinking life, so I can wear a gown and eat airline food every meal and have a male nurse with tattooed palms wipe my ass."

"You don't need anybody to do that for you."

"You haven't been around lately, Jerome. You don't know. You don't know that this is the place where they make the world's boredom and isolation. This is where they purify it. It's monstrous. And what they're doing to Nonna over in the ladies' wing, I can't even mention."

Nonna was his wife, and my mother, and at that point she had been in the brass urn for five years. Pop is by most measures fine in the head, though it seemed around that period that anything having to do with mortality and time often got scrambled in the relevant lobes, a development that diminished only somewhat my feelings of filial betrayal and guilt for placing him via power of attorney into the Ivy Acres Life Care Center, where for $5500 per month he will live out the rest of his days in complete security and comfort and without a worldly care, which we know is simple solution and problem all in one, which we can do nothing about, which we do all to forget.

"I'm taking a flying lesson today, Pop."

"Oh yeah?"

"Have any words for me?"

"I never got to fly a plane," he growled, and not in response to me. "I never rode in a hot-air balloon. I never made love to two women at once."

"I'm sure that can be arranged."

"Aah, don't bother. I don't need any more examples of my sorry ass. Just do me one favor."

"You name it, Pop."

"If you're going down, try to make it over here. Top corner of the building, looking right over the parking lot. Aim at the old bag waving in the window."

"Forget it."

"You are not my son."

"Yeah, Pop. I'll see you."


One of our usual goodbyes, from the thin catalogue of father-son biddings, thinner still for the time of life and circumstance and then, of course, for the players involved, who have never transgressed the terms of engagement, who have never even ridden the line. I then walked into the hangar office with a light-on-my-feet feeling, not like a giddiness or anxiety but an unnerving sense of being dangerously unmoored, as though I were some astronaut creeping out into the grand maw of space, eternities roiling in the background, with too much slack in my measly little line. And it occurred to me that in this new millennial life of instant and ubiquitous connection, you don't in fact communicate so much as leave messages for one another, these odd improvisational performances, often sorry bits and samplings of ourselves that can't help but seem out of context. And then when you do finally reach someone, everyone's so out of practice or too hopeful or else embittered that you wonder if it would be better not to attempt contact at all.

And yet I forgot all that when I finally got up off the deck, into the Up here. I won't go into the first blush of feelings and sensations but summarize to say only that my first thought when the instructor let me take the controls was that I wished he'd strapped a chute on himself, so he could jump the hell out. Nothing in the least was wrong with him-he was a nice, if alarmingly young, kid from an extended family of pilots, the Flahertys. But feeling the motor's buzz in my butt and legs, the shuddery lift of the wingtips in my hands, and gazing down just this middle distance on the world, this fetching, ever-mitigating length, I kept thinking that here was the little room, the little vessel, I was looking for, my private box seat in the world and completely outside of it, too.

After we landed and taxied toward the hangar I peppered the kid pilot for his opinion on what sort of plane I should buy and where I might find one. Through his big amber sunglasses (same as mine) he nodded to a three-seat Cessna with green stripes parked on the tarmac and told me it was for sale by a guy who had suffered a stroke on his last flight, though he had obviously weathered it and somehow brought himself in. It was an older plane, the kid said into his squawky microphone, in his clipped, mini-Chuck Yeager voice, but a reliable one and in good shape. It had been on the market for a while and I could probably get it at a good price. It wasn't the sort of plane I'd want if I was thinking about zipping back and forth across the country, but for shorter, leisure junkets it'd be ideal, which seemed just fine to me. Inside the hangar office the secretary gave me the guy's number, and it turned out he lived in the town next to mine, so on the drive back home I called and introduced myself to his friendly wife and we decided why shouldn't I come over right then and talk about it with her husband Hal?

Their house was an attractive cedar-shingled colonial, built in the 1960s like a lot of houses in this part of Long Island, including mine, when the area was still mostly potato fields and duck farms and unsullied stretches of low-slung trees and good scrubby nothingness. Now the land is filled with established developments and newer ones from the '80s, and with the last boom having catapulted everyone over the ramparts there's still earthmoving equipment to be seen on either side of the Expressway (eight lanes wide now), clearing the remaining natural tracts for the instant office parks and upscale condos and assisted living centers, and then the McMansions where young families like my son Jack's live, with their vaulted great rooms and multimedia rooms and wine and cigar caves. I should say I'm not against any of these things, per se, because it seems to me only right that people should play and work as they please in this so-called democratic life, and even as I'm damn proud of my son Jack's wholly climate-controlled existence (despite the fact that we don't really talk much anymore), there is another part of me that naturally wonders how this rush of prosperity is ruining him and Eunice and the kids and then everybody else who has money enough not to have to really think so deeply about money but does all the time anyway, wherever they are.

A national demography of which, I suppose, I've been an integral part, though in the past few years-since getting this plane, in fact-I've realized I have more than plenty, if plenty means I can ride out the next twenty or so years of my life expectancy not having to eat dried soup noodles if I don't want to or call one of Jack's employees instead of a real plumber or always remember to press my driver's license against the ticket window for the senior citizen rate at the multiplex. And though I've never had enough real surplus or the balls to invest in the stock market (an unexpiable sin in recent years, though now I'm a certified financial genius for socking away everything I have in Treasuries), unless I'm struck down by some ruinous long-term disability, I'll be okay. Oh you poor-mouthing owner of a private plane, you might be thinking, and rightly, for the Cessna did cost nearly as much as a big Mercedes, and isn't cheap to maintain. But in my defense, I still live in the same modest starter house I bought just before Jack was born, and never wore clothes I didn't buy at Alexander's and Ward's (now at Costco and Target-my longtime patronage clearly no help to the former defunct), or dined if I could help it in any restaurant, no matter how good, with menu prices spelled out in greeting card script. And if this plane is indeed my life's folly, well, at least I found one before it's too late, when the only juiced feeling of the day will be yet another heartbreakingly tragic History Channel biography on a nineteenth-century explorer or the ring-ring of some not-quite-as-old coot at the door delivering my day's foil-wrapped meal-on-wheels.

When I got to the stricken pilot's house his friendly wife, Shari, greeted me and then suddenly gave me a quick hug in the foyer, and so I hugged her back, as if I were an old war buddy of his and she and I had had our flirtations through the years, transgressions which I would not have minded, given her sturdy nice shape and pretty mouth. She showed me into the big, dark faux-walnut-paneled den, where a man in a baseball cap and crisp button-down shirt was sitting in an uncomfortable-looking wooden armchair with a plaid blanket spread over his legs. The place was freezing, as though they had the air set to 62 degrees. The cable was on but he was faced more toward the sliding glass door than the TV set, looking out on the covered deck, where they had propped a trio of silky-looking cardinals on the rim of an ornate plastic birdbath. The birds were amazingly realistic in detail, with shiny yellow beaks and black-masked faces, except perhaps that they were way too big, but I'd never been that close to such birds and I figured most things in the natural world were bigger than you thought, brighter and more vibrant and more real than real. As we approached, it was clear that he was dozing, and for a long almost parental second we stood over him, Shari pulling up the blanket that was half slipping off.

"Hal, honey," she said. "Mr. Battle is here. About the plane."

"Uh-hum," he said, clearing his throat. He extended his hand and we shook.

"Well, I'll let you two boys talk," Shari said, excusing herself to fix us some iced tea.

Hal said, "Sit right down there, young fella," pointing to the leather couch with his one good arm.

Hal wasn't that much older than I was, if he was older at all, but I guess his condition gave him the right to address me so, which didn't bother me. He spoke out of the same good side of his mouth, with a whistley, spitty sound that was boyish and youthful. He asked what I did for a living and I told him it used to be landscaping, and he told me he was a private driver, or was until his stroke, the kind who drove around executives and VIPs in regular black sedans. He was a nice-looking fellow, with a neatly clipped salt-and-pepper mustache and beard. And I should probably not so parenthetically mention right now that Hal was black. This surprised me, first because Shari wasn't, being instead your typical Long Island white lady in tomato-red shorts and a stenciled designer T-shirt, and then because there aren't many minorities in this area, period, and even fewer who are hobbyist pilots, a fact since borne out in my three years of hanging out at scrubby airfields. Of course, my exceedingly literate, overeducated daughter Theresa (Stanford Ph.D.) would say as she has in the past that I have to mention all this because like most people in this country I'm hopelessly obsessed with race and difference and can't help but privilege the normative and fetishize what's not. And while I'm never fully certain of her terminology, I'd like to think that if I am indeed guilty of such things it's mostly because sometimes I worry for her and Jack, who, I should mention, too, aren't wholly normative of race themselves, being "mixed" from my first and only marriage to a woman named Daisy Han.

"What's your name again?"

"Jerry. Jerry Battle."

"So, Jerry Battle, you want to buy a plane."

"I believe so," I said. "There's nothing like the freedom of flight."

"You bet. But listen, friend. Let me be up front with you. A lot of guys have been by here who weren't really sure. Now, I'd love to chat but you won't be insulting me if you decided right now this wasn't right for you."

"I think it is."

"You sure?" he said, staring me straight in the eye. I nodded, though in fact I was starting to wonder.

"Because sometimes guys realize at the last second they don't want to buy a used plane. You know what I'm talking about, Jerry?"

He was looking at me queerly, and then suddenly I thought I did know what he was talking about. I remembered a client with a mansion in Old Westbury, beautiful place except they'd had a lot of diseased trees, and we'd come in and replaced all of them and did a lot of patio and pool work and redid the formal gardens. After that the place was mint. But the husband took a new job in California and they put it on the market, for whatever millions. They had lots of lookers, but no offers, so they lowered the price, twice in fact. But still nothing. So the listing agent suggested they consider "depersonalizing" the house, by which she meant taking down the family pictures, and anything else like it, as the owners were black. They were thoroughly offended, but no one was biting and so finally the husband said they would, but then only if they listed the house at the original price. They ended up getting several overbids, and eventually sold to a party who'd looked the first time around.

So I told Hal, looking right at him, that I didn't mind a good used plane.

"Okay, good. Now. How long have you been flying?"

"A good while now," I said, thinking of course of my many hundred hours at the helm in coach, tray table ready. I don't know why I felt the need to lie to the man. Normally I wouldn't care if he knew I'd just touched down from my very first lesson and he thought I was crazy, but I guess seeing him like that, sitting invalid-style, made me think it might somehow push him over the edge to know a complete beginner would be manning his plane.

"I'm looking forward to pride of ownership," I said, hoping this might sound suitably virtuous, to us both. "Take my interest to the next level. As it were."

Hal nodded, though I couldn't tell from the expression on his half-frozen face if he was agreeing or was now on to me.

He said, "I bought the plane ten years ago. This just after my son Donnie was killed. Donnie was going to start medical school at BU. Six-year program. You know about that?"

"I think one of my customers' kids is in it. He got a perfect score on his SATs."

"Donnie did, too."

"No kidding."

"Some people don't believe me when I tell them, but you don't lie about something like that. You can't pretend yourself into perfection."

"I guess not."

"No way," Hal said, shifting in the hard wooden chair. You'd think he'd have a cushy, blobby-layered TV recliner (like I have at home), something upholstered in a pastel-colored leather with a built-in telephone and cup holder and magazine caddy that he could fall into to vegetate until the next meal or when nature called, but you could gather from the showroom setup of the house that Hal was the sort of fellow who preferred the rigor of the bench, who always had a dozen needle-sharp pencils ready on his desk, who believed in the chi of spit-shined shoes and a classic, cherry motor humming with fresh amber oil.

"Before he died I was in your situation," he said, glancing at me, "just getting up when I could, renting planes wherever we went on vacation, you know, to get the overview."


"I would've gone on like that. Been happy with it. But then Donnie had the head-on with the drunk driver. Son of a bitch has been out of jail for a few years now. On the anniversary day of the accident I go over to his place in Melville and sit out front with a picture of my son. Shari doesn't like me to do it but it's not like I have a choice. That man is not going to forget Donnie. Nobody is."

Just then Shari came back in, bearing a tray of three tall plastic tumblers of iced tea, each bobbed with a straw. She seemed to know what Hal was talking about, because she left her drink on the tray and without a word went outside on the deck, sliding the glass door closed behind her, and began culling the plants for withered blooms. Our clingy hug in the foyer should have clued me in to where this visit was headed, how every other stranger you bump into these days (or try to buy something from) has the compulsion to unfurl the precious old remnant of his life for you, his own tatter of a war story, which would be bad enough but for the companion fact that those closest to you seem to clam up at every chance of genuine kinship, with undue prejudice. But I was here now and still interested in buying the plane and this was probably the last wholly appropriate occasion Hal would have to tell his story, which no decent citizen of this world, and certainly not Jerry Battle, could rightly refuse to hear.

Hal took a long sip through his straw, nearly finishing his drink in one take. "After things got settled down I realized I had all this money set aside for him, for tuition and the rest of it. It wasn't going to cover the whole shot but it was enough to get him going, you know, so he wouldn't be pinned with all the debts when he was done."

"That's great."

"It was great. But now what? All of a sudden I'm looking at this big pile of cash." Hal laughed tightly, in the way he could laugh, which was like a form of strained, intense breathing. "What do you do with something like that?"

"I'm not sure, Hal."

"Well, Shari felt we ought to give the money to charity. Maybe to the medical school, for a scholarship in Donnie's name. A scholarship was fine with me, Jerry, because it's not like I didn't have a decent war chest going for our retirement, which thank God we have now. I'm not too proud to say we've always been set up right, in regard to our family. But Donnie was a good kid, bright and talented, but most of all just plain good, and I got to thinking he didn't need to be memorialized by us, at least in those usual ways. He never flew with me, because his mother didn't trust the rental planes, but he always wanted to, and I got to feeling that maybe he would think it was kind of neat that I bought a plane with his medical school money."

"I'm sure he's tickled."

"Thank you for saying that, Jerry," he said. "When I was having the stroke up there, I was thinking just that. Actually I wasn't thinking anything for a little while, because I was seizing. Lucky for me I was at 9500 feet when it hit. I must have spiraled down in a wide circle, who knows how many minutes of blind flying, because when I looked out again I was only at about 300 feet, and crossing right over the Expressway. I could see some kids slap-fighting in the back of a minivan, and the first thing that came to mind was that this was my son Donnie's ship, dammit, and I ought to be more careful with her. There was no way I wasn't going to bring her in. I knew it was the last real thing I was supposed to do."

"It's amazing you were able to land, using just one arm and one leg."

"It's hard to know for sure," Hal said, rubbing his face, "but I'm almost certain I still had use of my entire body. The doctors told me it's unlikely, even impossible, but I know they're wrong. There are mysteries, Jerry, when it comes to the body and mind. Take Donnie, for instance. He didn't die at the scene. He was in a coma for five days in the ICU. On the fifth day he sat right up in his bed and told me that he was already dead. Shari wasn't there, she was down in the cafeteria getting us fresh coffee. I was shocked that he was awake but I said, 'What do you mean, son, listen to yourself, you're alive.' And Donnie said, 'No, Dad, it just looks like I am. I died on that road, and you know it.' I decided to play along, because I didn't want to upset him, and because I was so happy to be talking to him, and I asked him what it was like, to be dead. And do you know what he told me, Jerry?"

I shook my head, because I didn't want to know, actually, death not being a state I've found myself terribly interested in, then or now or come any day in the future.

"He said it was nice and bright and chilly, like a supermarket. And that there was no one else around."

"He was alone?"

"You got it. Like he had the place all to himself. But he said it was okay, really fine. Then he got tired and lay back down. By the time Shari was back, he'd dropped back in the coma again. And he never woke up."

Shari came in from the deck and she saw Hal's face all screwed up, and instantly I could see she was trying her best to hold it together. I made the mistake of going over and gripping Hal's shoulder, and both he and Shari lost it. Before I knew it we were all huddled together, and Hal was wheezing like his windpipe was cracked and Shari's face was buried in my neck, her muted sobs alternating with what felt like delicate, openmouthed kisses but were just her crying eyes. I glanced at Hal, who was covering his own face with his good arm, and as I stood up with Shari still draped on my shoulders, Hal mumbled, "If you two would please excuse me for a moment."

So I followed Shari into the kitchen, not unmoved by the display but also half-dreading an imminent Part II, HerStory, in which Jerry Battle would learn of the Turbulent Early Years, and the Cherub Donnie, and then of Waning Passions: A Late-Middle Passage, life chapters or what have you that I could certainly relate to and mourn and hallow with neighborly unction and sobriety, but that I would be wishing to decline, decline. But perhaps it was too late for all that, or simply that we were in her spotless kitchen, as Shari slipped into hausfrau mode and gave me a fresh glass of iced tea and a plate of oatmeal cookies and we were soon chatting about garbage pickup days and the recent spike in our property taxes, which would hurt retired folks and other people like them on fixed incomes. Apparently Hal had overstated their financial condition. They really had to sell the plane. Shari said they might even have to sell the house and move to a condo, though she said this almost matter-of-factly, without a hint of whine or anger, and for a moment she sounded just like my long-dead wife, Daisy, who, when not caught up in one of her hot blooms of madness, featured the casual and grave acceptance of someone who works outdoors and is once again caught in a lingering rain.

After a short while I told Shari I'd mail a check for the price they were asking, if that was all right.

"You're not going to bargain a little?"

"Should I?"

"I don't know," she said. "This seems too easy. We've been trying to sell it for half a year."

"I got that from Hal. Why it's been difficult."

"Oh that, that's poppycock," she said. "If anything, it's because they come and see him like he is, and they think the plane has bad luck."

"Does it?"

She paused, and then said, without looking at me, "No."

"Good," I said, though in fact for the first time since coming up with the whole headlong idea at the field I felt a little off-kilter, and scared. "Then it's settled, okay?"

"Okay, Jerry," she said, clasping my hand.

We went to tell Hal that the deal was done but he was fast asleep in his chair in the den, a wide slick of drool shimmying down his chin. Shari produced a hankie from her shorts pocket and wiped him with a deft stroke. He didn't budge. We tiptoed to the door and Shari thanked me for coming by and dealing with everything and helping them out, and I told her it was my privilege and honor to do so but that I certainly didn't believe I was helping them. And yet, all I could think of as we stepped out on the front stoop was that the rap sheet on me documented just this kind of thing, that I'm one to leap up from the mat to aid all manner of strangers and tourists and other wide-eyed foreigners but when it comes to loved ones and family I can hardly ungear myself from the La-Z-Boy, and want only succor and happy sufferance in return.

Shari and I hugged once more, but then she surprised me with a quick, dry peck on the mouth. On the mouth.

"I'm sorry," Shari said, stepping back. "I didn't mean that."

"Hey," I told her, my hands raised. "No harm done. See?"

Shari nodded, though I could tell she was feeling as if something was just done. She stood there on the stoop, self-horrified, trying to cover herself with her arms. Normally I would have begged off right then, made some lame excuse and neatly backslid to my car, but I couldn't bear to leave her hanging like that, so I wrapped my arms around her and closed my eyes and kissed her with whatever sweet force and tenderness I could muster, not even pretending she was my Rita, and not sorry about it either, except for the fact that I did enjoy it, too, at least macrocosmically, the notion of kissing a thoroughly decent and pretty woman who was another man's wife and not needing to push the moment a hair past its tolerances. And I think that it was in this spirit that Shari perhaps liked it, too, or appreciated the squareness of it, its gestural, third-person quality, whatever or whatever, for after we relented and let each other go she broke into this wide, wan, near-beatific smile, and then disappeared into the house. I waited a second, then got into my car and backed out of the driveway, when Shari came out again. She handed me two sets of keys to the plane.

"But I haven't paid you guys yet."

"I know you will," she said. "Just promise you'll look after it and keep it safe."

I told her I would. And then the awkwardness of the moment made me say that if she ever wanted to fly in the plane again, she could call me.

"I don't think so," she said. "But thank you. And don't forget what Hal always says."

"What's that?" I asked.

"'There's no point in flying if you can't fly alone.'"

-- from Aloft by Chang-rae Lee, copyright © 2004 Chang-rae Lee, published by Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.

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Reading Group Guide

Q> Jerry's relationships with the three women in his life are complicated and inter-related. What were the happiest moments of the life he shared with Daisy? Why did Rita help Jerry raise Jack and Theresa when he denied her the opportunity to have children of her own? Why doesn't Jerry do more to help Kelly in her most desperate moment of need?

Q> On the surface, Paul and Jack are completely different: Paul is a small, wiry bookworm, an out-of-work writer, while Jack is a natural-born athlete and manager of the Battle family business. But while the differences are apparent, both men practice a form of denial with regard to their relationships with their wives. How are both men governed by the demands of these relationships? Discuss the differences and similarities between Jack and Paul as they try to cope with the conflicts of their married lives.

Q> Why is Theresa determined to have her baby-even at the cost of her own life?

Q> When Jerry goes to Richie's house to look for Rita and is reluctantly drawn into a high-wager tennis match against him, he allows his plane, Donnie, to be the collateral with which he will play. Donnie is Jerry's favorite escape. Is his potentially sacrificing it enough to show Rita that he wants her back? Why does Rita decide to stay and help Jerry put his family back together again?

Q> Discuss the metaphor of flight as it relates to Jerry's propensity for escapism and for distancing himself from the problems that arise in the world.

Q> How does Jerry deal with Theresa's illness differently than with Daisy's?

Q> When Hank sounds sick over the phone, Jerry admits to his disbelief in "the Real." Jerry continually tries to ignore "the Real," to float beyond it until the trouble has passed and someone else has dealt with it. How does this attitude affect his ability to raise Jack and Theresa? Theresa later praises Jerry for his parenting skills. Would Jack feel the same way toward his father? Does Jack, instead, pity himself? Why?

Q> When Paul and Jerry are in Pop's bedroom watching TV, Paul explains that the problem with the world is that everyone is too self absorbed: "They think they can go anywhere and do anything, as if none of their actions has any bearing except on themselves." Jerry often characterizes himself in much the same way. Does he avoid feeling guilty by believing his problems originate with Daisy's death? Does he excuse all his family members of their faults with the same justification? How, if at all, does learning more about Daisy's last few hours change Jerry's opinions about himself?

Q> How do you think Jerry characterizes Theresa's death? Was it his fault? Hers? How would Jerry view Daisy's death in contrast? What is your interpretation of the circumstances that lead to each woman's passing?

Q> The novel begins with Jerry flying in his plane and ends with him stepping into a rectangular hole in the ground that will later be a pool, lying down, and looking up at the sky. Discuss the symbolism of the book's final image and how it relates to the metaphor of flight throughout the rest of the novel.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 24 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 24 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    A lesson in humanity

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2014


    The Phantom sounds like a Deadpool wannabe.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2014

    Good, overall

    I love it! &hearts<p>
    Please excuse me while I fangirl.<p>
    It is great. A little bit vague, though it has detail. Stupendous concept! More! *Screams at you*<p>

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2014


    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])

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2014


    Oh yeah!!! Cliffie! This is great keep going!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2014


    That story is really interesting so far! I really wanted to read on to see what happened next!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2014


    Great! And you are an author right now, as you have writen a story part already

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2014

    The Life of The Phantom

    The Life of The Phantom


    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...))

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  • Posted November 2, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    good story

    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!

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  • Posted September 23, 2011

    Not so great

    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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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2006


    Not as good as Native Speaker, but worth reading...

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2006

    am I reading the same book as the reviewers?

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 24, 2005

    A normal and real story

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2004


    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2004

    Two Hits, Now a Miss

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2004


    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2004


    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2004

    another excellent novel

    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.....

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 15, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 24, 2011

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