A novel about a man who lives in a parallel world making his living counseling the downsized could hardly arrive -- land -- at a more apt time, in this season of dot-coma and summer-air-travel hell. But this is a book that will endure beyond its era. Ryan Bingham is our Man in the Casual Friday Suit, and he is sitting next to us. In fact, he may be us.
New York Times Book Review
Ryan Bingham has his head in the clouds. Sick of his job as a "Career Transition Counselor" (he fires people), Bingham gives himself six days to rack up the last of his million frequent flyer miles while still on the company dime. But every time Bingham descends from what he affectionately calls "Airworld," he hits the real turbulence: a runaway sister, a very un-PC boss and a possible stalker whom he once helped fire. In between dealing with his many crises on the ground, Bingham becomes preoccupied with getting a job at the elusive MythTech, a secretive think tank determined to crack open the spending habits of the world. Soon the Marriott kitchenette dinners, bleary-eyed perusals of airline magazines and string of one-night stands take their toll on Bingham, who eventually has a breakdown in Las Vegas. Kirn knows how to tell an engaging tale, and the characters we meet add revealing dimensions to the disarmingly likable protagonist.
In this quirky and unsettling novel (his third after Thumbsucker), Kirn manages to capture on paper much of what is worst about our present age. Ryan Bingham, a business flyer, is six days from attaining his personal goal of one million miles on his frequent-flyer account. He's in the air so much that he has no actual real-world address, having become, instead, a resident of "Airworld," where "my hometown papers are USA Today and the Wall Street Journal." Bingham's job is CTC (Career Transition Counseling) helping large companies fire their executives with minimal legal risk. The job is wearing him down, but he's determined to reach his mileage goal, and this determination, amazingly, provides sufficient suspense to carry the reader along from airport to airport. Kirn has a gift for exploiting telling details about our consumption-mad culture, hinting at dark marketing conspiracies that will have us all buying strange items within the month, as though we were simply puppets of the marketing companies, one of which Bingham aspires to: MythTech. Harrowing reading, but worth the turbulence. Recommended for most fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/01.] David Dodd, Marin Cty. Free Lib., San Rafael, CA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Saturated with smart irony and ripe with a sense of dislocation, this third novel from the fiction editor of GQ (Thumbsucker, 1999, etc.) takes readers on a frenetic tour of Airworld, that in-flight zone of business travel where destinations bleed invisibly into connections, and connections become stations along a perpetual journey. The story follows Ryan Bingham, a corporate Career Transitions Counselor (read: a guy for hire who fires and flees), as he closes in on the millionth accumulated mile in his GreatWest frequent-flyer plan. Bingham's plan is to nab the final mile and leave his unsatisfying job, as well as the hotel suites, rental cars, airport breakfasts, and credit cards that come with it. There are secondary goals as well: Bingham needs to shore up a book deal with publisher Morris Dwight; advise Art Krusk now that his California taco franchise has gone under; keep his options open with MythTech, a shadowy firm that may or may not be interested in hiring him; pitch a licensing deal involving the name and logo of business guru Sanford Pinter; and keep his pulse on the forthcoming marriage of his sister Julie. But he runs into turbulence both literal and figurative: his credit card is stolen, his sister Julie disappears for days, and he's accused of plagiarizing a business book that even he recognizes wasn't all that original in the first place. To top it off, Bingham begins to suspect that GreatWest is trying to sabotage his million-mile achievement. The whole affair hurtles toward an anesthetized, soul-wearying epiphany aboard his final flight to Omaha, as he is toasted by the airline's president. Kirn's prose is splendid, his observations droll and intelligent,his evocations of Airworld pitch-perfect. If only his ambitions did more than snugly fit his grasp. A mild treat from a stubbornly minor novelist still marking literary time somewhere between Don DeLillo and the authors of those fluffy confections readers inhale on summer beachesor in airports.
From the Publisher
“A dead-on, wry portrait of the life of the road warrior.” –Rudy Maxa, The Washington Post
“[A] hilarious, often ingenious ode to America.. . . . Whip smart yet entertaining enough to rival anything from John Grisham.” –Julia Dahl, Time Out New York
“Kirn’s style is as bright and metallic as the shiny skin of a jet airplane. But his underlying point is refreshingly down to earth.” –John Gallagher, Chicago Tribune
Read an Excerpt
Ryan Bingham’s job as a Career Transition Counselor–he fires people–has kept him airborne for years. Although he has come to despise his line of work, he has come to love the culture of what he calls “Airworld,” finding contentment within pressurized cabins, anonymous hotel rooms, and a wardrobe of wrinkle-free slacks. With a letter of resignation sitting on his boss’s desk, and the hope of a job with a mysterious consulting firm, Ryan Bingham is agonizingly close to his ultimate goal, his Holy Grail: one million frequent flier miles. But before he achieves this long-desired freedom, conditions begin to deteriorate.
With perception, wit, and wisdom, Up in the Air combines brilliant social observation with an acute sense of the psychic costs of our rootless existence, and confirms Walter Kirn as one of the most savvy chroniclers of American life.