The Novels of Paul La Farge: Background information when reading Luminous Airplanes

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Luminous Airplanes

A Novel

by Paul LaFarge

Luminous Airplanes by Paul LaFarge
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2011, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2012, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jennifer G Wilder

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
The Novels of Paul La Farge

Print Review

According to an article in Time Out Chicago (August 2011), "Paul La Farge might be the greatest American writer you haven't read, but now there's no excuse." He has been constructing a solid home for himself in American letters since his first published novel in 1999.

Paul La Farge With a flavor of European modernism, The Artist of the Missing (1999) is a story about a young artist searching for his parents in a bewildering urban landscape. It was awarded a California Book Award for the best first novel of 1999. La Farge describes how he wrote his first draft of the story over the course of 21 days, and then revised it for 2 years. It went on to be rejected by 34 publishers before finding a home with Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. Haunting woodcut illustrations by artist Stephen Alcorn accompany the text.

Haussmann, or the Distinction (2001) also exists within a modernist framework, claiming to be a translation of a 1922 work by a (fictional) French poet "Paul Poissel." The novel itself is a tour-de-force of historical fiction, a vision of nineteenth-century Paris dripping with detail. Within all the coy layers of fiction, La Farge attempts to breathe life into Paul Poissel with a scholarly afterward and even labeled photographs of Poissel and his beloved. (There is, in fact, a real historical personage at the center of the story, the urban planner George-Eugene Haussman.) The novel was a New York Times Notable Book in 2001.

Paul Poissel lives on - La Farge's The Facts of Winter (2005) is a collection of dreams purporting to have been dreamed by the French poet in 1881, but which were actually written by La Farge in New York after 9/11. Facts of Winter is being released in paperback by McSweeney's in October 2011.

La Farge has a funny and tender commentary on his website about the unfinished ("or unfinishable?") novel O, which he started in college, worked on between 1991-1996, and published pieces of in a campus magazine. Since O La Farge seems to be growing more and more grounded as a writer, and perhaps it is with Luminous Airplanes that his high-flying imagination comes close enough to earth to allow a larger American readership on board.

Read some of Paul La Farge's short stories online, or watch the video below to hear him explain the idea of an "immersive text."

This article was originally published in October 2011, and has been updated for the October 2012 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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