Chang-rae Lee’s Aloft
I have to say I was relieved when I started reading Chang-rae Lee’s Aloft: it’s a hell of a lot less depressing that A Gesture Life, which I had a hard time getting through, both because of the subject matter of comfort women, and because of Franklin Hata’s attitude about them. In a way, though, the protagonist in Aloft is also a bit maddening.
Jerry Battle is a middle-aged man who’s got a lot on his hands: his son, who has taken over the family business, threatens to run it into the ground; his daughter is pregnant, ill, and refusing treatment; his father is unhappy at the retirement home (who wouldn’t be?) ; and his girlfriend is thinking of leaving him, so what does he do? He spends a lot of time aloft, on his newly purchased plane. You want to bring him down and whack him on the head. But one of the things I admire most about Lee’s work is his ability to empathize with his characters, even when they’re unlikeable, and this ability is in evidence here as well: Battle ended up growing on me.
Those readers who come to this story expecting some mention or meditation on race will probably notice that Battle is Italian-American, that his late wife was Korean, that the man who sells him the plane is black, etc.) To me, though, Lee seems more preoccupied with class than race in this one–references to the middle-class life abound.
Lee indulges in long sentences that meander yet manage (mostly) not to lose the reader. I did wonder whether that stylistic choice was appropriate for Battle but I suppose eventually I sort of attributed the cadence to the character and forgot about it.