Chang-Rae Lee Novels (3) Aloft

It took me a long time to get around to reading Aloft. (2004), Chang-Rae Lee’s third novel (having read his fourth and his first two). His decision to write about white (mostly of Italian descent, but not very ethnic in identification or culture, and living in Cheever/Updike exurbia) was brave, but I have to say that I prefer the other three of the first four each of which centers on Korean or Korean-American protagonists (always male, including Jerry Battle, né Battaglia).


I don’t find any of the characters in Aloft particularly sympathetic, and there is not a lot of plot, either, though some significant things happen within it. Through most of the book, I was thinking that too little of it was aloft, but the climax erased this criticism and is gripping, as well. (The itinerary of the last flight in the book is very detailed, and boring for someone unfamiliar with the detail of Long Island and New England geography, as I am.)

I guess a novel about a family in the building trade (originally brick-laying, eventually upscale landscape design and construcion) is going to be much concerned with money, especially in that the younger generation (Jerry’s son, Jack, egged on by his pretention wife, Eunice) overspends and pisses away the Battle Brother business.

aloft cov.jpg

Sort of related to this is that it is hard to believe that the builder narrator (Jerry) would think or write such beautiful prose with such complex syntax. I don’t think that normal builders (Italian or other descent) think or write like Jerry (who turns 60 in the course of the book does). (His octogenarian father, Hank, who IMO emits more credible lines for a landscaper, in an assisted-living facility called Ivy Acres.) Self-absorbed, run-on sentences are credible, but Jerry’s are suspiciously gilded and literary, as well as running long.

©2019, Stephen O. Murray



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