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Luminous Airplanes: A Novel Hardcover – September 27, 2011


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Editorial Reviews

Review

Luminous Airplanes turns out to be one of the best 9/11 novels I’ve read, not least because it is such an understated—almost unstated—addition to the genre. The terrorist attacks go unmentioned until its final pages, yet everything in it tends in the direction of that day: the implicit future trajectory of the flying machine; the Millerites’ obsession with the end of the world; the tension in Thebes between European-Americans and the Middle Eastern Regenzeits; the description of September weather; La Farge’s meditation on postmodernity’s impermanence . . . Luminous Airplanes isn’t about disconnection and meaninglessness. It is about connection and significance—about the way the past becomes the future, the contingent the inevitable, the spandrel the success, the success the tragedy. It is, in other words, about the ramifying, mysterious ways we human beings affect each other, from parent to child, invention to invention, generation to generation.” —Kathryn Schulz, The New York Times Book Review

“La Farge tells his tale of homecoming compassionately but without sentimentality. He has a knack for delivering details as if the reader had already accepted them and was welcoming each discursion freely. Rather than submitting to the darkness of the sleeping bag that is modern fiction, La Farge encourages his readers to search the sky for the signs that herald the return of loved ones we’ve lost. The search is a futile one, but nonetheless satisfying.” —Manoli Kouremetis, Time Out New York

“Captivating . . . A wry, provocative, and often hilarious coming-of-age tale.” —Karen Campbell, The Boston Globe

“The book is beautiful . . . La Farge has a light touch . . . [And Luminous Airplanes] is an easy book to pick up, put down, and pick up again.” —The Economist

Luminous Airplanes hurtles through subjects such as gentrification, the internet bubble of the late 90s, the difficulties of staging an effective protest movement, and the psychic upheaval occasioned by September 11 . . . in manner that is commodious and vivid.” —Christopher Byrd, The Daily Beast

“Like some kind of freakishly gifted Olympic ice skater, Paul La Farge skates gracefully through decades of time, tracing the through lines from childhood games to the dramas and disintegrating dreams of adulthood. Our charming, hilarious narrator is caught in a grinding stasis created by “what I lacked the courage to pursue but could not let go”: his crummy programming job, his stillborn dissertation, his dead patriarchs, his impossible (plural) mothers, and the phoenix of Yesim, his beautiful, mildly hirsute, first love. This perfect figure-8 of a book links San Francisco’s tech boom to one nerdy kid’s quest to seduce a girl with a computer game to the quacky cul-de-sacs of early aeronautics history to sleepy 1980s upstate New York to the Millerites’ cosmic goof. Luminous Airplanes is a coming of age story like none other I’ve ever read, one that seems to exists simultaneously in the past and the present, in plausible futures and science-fictional realms. Luminous Airplanes is brilliant, poignant, startling, hilarious, and a really, really fun read. I loved it.” —Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia!

“This is one of the best works of fiction to come my way in a long time. Paul La Farge writes beautifully, with wit, humor and passion. He has created as thoroughly imagined a world as you would expect from Chekhov or Flaubert, and has bestowed upon two fictional families enough sympathy and care to rank himself among the best of parents. Luminous Airplanes is a quiet triumph of a book.” —Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story

“Paul La Farge’s Luminous Airplanes is itself a luminous book, an exquisitely polished small world of characters and emotions that captures a generation’s coming of age through the perspective of one young man.” —BookBrowse

“Paul La Farge’s novels have always been luminous, but in Luminous Airplanes his relentlessly sharp eye alights on our crazy present for the first time, knocking the new century against his strange and wondrous imagination. The results inhabit a recognizable world that feels brave and new, a social history that feels like science fiction, and a wild story that you could swear happened to friends of yours. It’s funny without sacrificing its serious intent; it’s ambitious without abandoning its intimate boundaries; it’s everything we want in a novel and quite a few things we hadn’t thought of until this moment. I closed this book with a tiny little sadness that I’d never again get to experience it for the first time.” —Daniel Handler, author of Adverbs

“[A] brilliantly imagined novel . . . La Farge spins his tale with the grace of an acrobat.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“[Luminous Airplanes] is a page-turning pleasure . . . [that] sustains a spirit of innocence and wonder.” —Kirkus Reviews

About the Author

Paul La Farge is the author of two novels: The Artist of the Missing (FSG, 1999) and Haussmann, or the Dis­tinction (FSG, 2001); and a book of imaginary dreams, The Facts of Win­ter. His short stories have appeared in McSweeney’s, Harper’s Magazine, Fence, Conjunctions, and elsewhere. His nonfiction appears in The Believer, Bookforum, Playboy, and Cabinet. He lives in upstate New York.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition, 1st Printing edition (September 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374194319
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374194314
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,804,036 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

I bought this book as a birthday gift for my lovely wife.
R. Dean
There's nothing wrong with small-scale if you find something new there but La Farge does not.
The Man in the Hathaway Shirt
For me this is such a boring book, at least the first 100 pages are.
Eric Selby

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By lamontcranston on September 29, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Paul La Farge has managed to craft a wonderful, engaging world, which happily fits into a novel (almost). The parts that have spilled into immersive (online) text are equally delightful.

As Gary Shytengart put it in a September 29, 2011 interview: "i blurbed luminous airplanes because it's amazing. and amazing books aren't written very often. so buy it." [...]
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Book Dork VINE VOICE on July 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I desperately wanted to love this novel and it's online component- I really did. I tried.

Praise
- The idea of an epic road trip is always a good thing (see below, though)
- The narrator seriously seems like a cool guy
- Attempting a hypertext kind of concept is definitely innovative
- The whole "two moms" concept is interesting, as were the characters

Problems
- The road trip went by way, way too fast
- The premise for this book, male returns to hometown to sort out a death, has been done many times before. This isn't to say that it can't be done again; it just wasn't really done in a new way.
- The writing wasn't anything spectacular.
- The end was a bit rushed and forced.

I won't list my concerns with the online component as a negative, because this is a review of the book. I must say, though, that I found it a bit tedious and did not have the patience to find the new material I'm assuming is there.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Laurence R. Bachmann VINE VOICE on October 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Paul La Farge's Luminous Airplanes is odd and lovely, a sort of coming of age novel with a postmodern twist. The bursting of the internet bubble and passing of his grandfather precipitates an emotional crises. He abandons his Ciity of Ghosts (San Francisco) with a return to his boyhood past, and his one solid familial memory in Thebes NY. Here he is reminded he has something he has forgotten and papered over, perhaps because of its indistinctness--a past.

"He" is our unnamed protagonist--a bit angst ridden, a bit too enamored of psychedelic drugs. The remainder of the novel is a pretty straightforward look at what can only be described as a kind of Faulknerian exploration at the turn of the last century. Is the past still past? Is it real? And what constitutes connection? What constitutes a binding tie? It's complicated when you have no father--he killed himself-- but two mothers who happen to be twin sisters, Celeste Marie and Marie Celeste, aka The Celestes. Most interesting is his interaction with Yesim, his childhood neighbor and now equally damaged friend teetering on the brink of madness at the beginning of the 21st. Her father has gone off Turkey to reclaim the old ways as she tries to find any way that makes sense for an alien in both worlds. Quite moving is her questioning the value of liberated women and freedom--if you don't know freedom exists, do you miss it?

As Yesim helps pack up and dispose of the grandfather's life she is a sort of lightening rod for questions about the value of anybody's life. These existential musings, cloaked in humor or crises are LA's great strength. There is also a site that you can go to as you read along with the book. It's a lot to engage, but parts of it are very cool.
Read more ›
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By William B. Rodgers on March 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Child of Hyperfiction

Luminous Airplanes is an interesting novel in and of itself but i'm more interested in its roots in hyperfiction.

few readers know that this version of LA is the "child" of LaFarge's hyperfiction of the same name. Meaning that much of it comes from pre-existing text on a web site and then moved over to the paper and digital publications.

the paper novel is not the same as the hyperfiction product. Their texts overlap but they're also different from each other.

LA, the Kindle book, is a digital version of the paper product but not of the hyperfiction.
Kindle does not yet support sophisticated hypertext and you cannot read the hypertext version of LA on your kindle.

LA, the hypertext, lives on an external web site and not in a Kindle book.

check out Jack Well's external cloud document for his commentary trying to put all this in perspective: 'Outline of Reactions to hypertext "novel"; Luminous Airplanes."

Amazon does not support links to external publications such as this one but here's a URL you can paste into your browser ..if it's not edited out:

[...]

(yup. Check following comment for work around)
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The book jacket description called this "expansive" and "hugely imaginative." I'd call it precisely the opposite: humdrum and small-scale. There's nothing wrong with small-scale if you find something new there but La Farge does not. WE get another one of those aw-shucks-where'd-we-go-wrong-&-leave-the-idealism stories where the hero comes home to clean out the house after the death of his grandfather. We then get a relationship with an Indian girl and I'm not really sure why this is so important to the plot, or why she goes bonkers (literally) over it, but it struck me as contrived rather than organic. The ending seems like it was written in one marathon sitting as we leap forward with totally unrelated 9/11 references and an epiphany that felt grown separately and grafted on. I really don't get the crap that is being pushed these days as "literary" fiction, especially when I know so many gifted and original writers who have to self-publish because they're told there's "no market" for their excellent work. It seems to me like agents and editors have a very narrow idea of what they're looking for, and it's largely derivative. I think I'm done with American fiction. Other countries seem to be producing at least somewhat better writers, the UK excepted.
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