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Aloft Paperback – March 1, 2005

3.6 out of 5 stars 68 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Chang-Rae Lee, named by The New Yorker as one of its 20 writers for the 21st Century, has confirmed his place in that company with Aloft, a masterful treatment of a man coming to terms with his own disaffection. In two previous novels, Native Speaker and A Gesture Life, Lee, a Korean-American, writes of lives being not what they seem: in the first, the protagonist is an undercover agent; in the second, the two halves of Franklin Hata's life never quite come together. Both novels won numerous awards, including Best First Novel, the Hemingway PEN Award, the American Book Award and the Asian-American Literary Award, among others. In Aloft, Lee revisits alienation, a fractured family, mixed heritage and the quest for identity.

Jerry Battle, 59-year-old widower and father of two, retired from the family business--the unmistakably earthbound Battle Brothers Brick and Mortar--buys a small airplane because "From up here, a half mile above the Earth, everything looks perfect to me." All is not well below. Jerry knows it, saying

...the recurring fantasy of my life... is one of perfect continuous travel, this unending hop from one point to another, the pleasures found not in the singular marvels of any destination but in the constancy of serial arrivals and departures, and the comforting companion knowledge that you’ll never quite get intimate enough for any trouble to start brewing.

His view from aloft saves him from the gritty reality of the detritus of life--and from life itself.

This high-flyer must come to earth, however, when he finds that his daughter is newly pregnant, diagnosed with cancer, and refusing treatment; his son, who is running the company, has piled up enough debt that bankruptcy is imminent; and his father has gone missing from his assisted living facility. Jerry can no longer say, with impunity, "Jerry Battle hereby declines the Real." Lee takes us on great side trips into the pleasures of food and recreational sex; his wife Daisy's death; his longtime lover Rita's almost endless patience, weaving long, Miltonic sentences that start in one place and end up miles away--flights of fancy--trailing clouds of insight and poignancy. With Aloft Lee just keeps getting better. --Valerie Ryan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; Reprint edition (March 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594480702
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594480706
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #404,071 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on March 8, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Jerome Battle, a self-described "average American guido," has managed to live most of his sixty years "above it all," never quite engaging with those around him or becoming emotionally intimate. On weekends he is aloft in his small plane, his "private box seat in the world and completely outside of it, too," flying alone around Long Island, observing the apparent orderliness of the landscape without the "pedestrian sea-level flotsam" of everyday life. Unfortunately, Jerry also lives his personal life the way he flies his plane, as if he's seeing it from a great distance. Numerous personal catastrophes, enough to unhinge a man more sensitive to his surroundings, are now occurring around and to Jerry and his family, but Jerry's long experience in avoidance allows him to remain disengaged from these events. Slowly, inexorably, the author develops the family's crises until they finally force themselves onto Jerry's personal radar screen, and he realizes that "I cannot stay at altitude much longer, even though I have fuel to burn."
By focusing on character, especially that of Jerry, rather than plot, and telling the story from Jerry's point of view, author Lee has created enormous challenges for himself. He must engage the reader's interest in a man who is not really interested in much of anything--a man who does not see family emergencies as the dramatic and heart-wrenching events that they would be to other people and who has no real interest in changing. So successful is the depiction of Jerry's phlegmatic point of view that the reader, too, may not see these events as very compelling or dramatic until Jerry himself starts to respond to them. Yet Lee's novel succeeds in its characterization.
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Format: Hardcover
Jerry Battle is almost 60 and semi-retired from Battle Brothers Brick and Mortar, a company his father, who is living unhappily in a retirement home, took great pride in. He works part-time at Parade Travel and lives the good life in Huntington Village, a wealthy (and mostly white) area on Long Island that is a far cry from his Italian roots in nearby Whitestone. He has spent his entire life skating around relationships --- his first wife Daisy drowned in their backyard pool, and his long-time girlfriend, Rita, leaves him after taking care of his children and waiting over 10 years for Jerry to pop the question. Kelly, Jerry's co-worker at Parade Travel, dates him briefly and is similarly exasperated with him.
His children also don't seem to know what to do with him. His son, Jack, is a solid guy who is married to an All-American blonde named Eunice, has two children and lives in a ridiculously over-decorated house they can't quite afford. Jack is running the family business into the ground but neglects to discuss this with Jerry directly. Theresa, who is by far a more colorful and interesting character, is Jerry's daughter. She is an overeducated professor, also cursed with thinking too much, and is engaged to Paul, an Asian-American poet who has a serious case of writer's block. Theresa calls her father by his first name and adamantly refuses treatment when she finds out she is simultaneously pregnant and has cancer.
All of this is compounded by the fact that Jerry unintentionally befriends strangers --- such as the couple who sell him his airplane --- but is removed from those he loves the most. Truth be told, everyone thinks Jerry is lazy and aloof.
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Format: Paperback
Jerry Battle, the protagonist narrator of "Aloft" says at one point in the book, "...there are few things in this life as heartbreaking as unexpected solidarity." Perhaps that's why Jerry keeps himself (or is kept) so emotionally distant from the friends and family in his life. Whether it's of his own doing or not, he's a man who stays above the fray - literally retreating to his small airplane in times of particular stress. He avoids confrontation, not realizing that when you do that you also avoid getting close to other people.

"Aloft" is about Jerry's journey back to the ground, and whether he lands safely or crashes and burns. Jerry is a delightful protagonist, wittier and smarter than he gives himself credit for. He's not exactly a "nice" guy, but he's decent. He knows how to fight hard and strong for things that he ultimately finds irrelevant, but can't find the right words when it's something that matters. His gradual realization, as he approaches his 60th birthday, is that what he really wants out of life is to start over, but he soon learns that such opportunities always come with a cost.

Chang-Rae Lee deftly captures the language of family members who don't really communicate with each other. And the characters ring true, from Jack's dull son Jack, hyper-intellectual daughter Theresa, and elderly sexist blowhard of a father, all of the characters feel natural and at home in Jerry's going-through-the-motions life.

But ultimately it's Jerry's point-of-view that makes the book work. He's fascinated with race - not racist, mind you, just finds it noteworthy. He's prone to self-reflexion, but not actually acting on his observations.
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