A decade after the publication of Haussmann, or the Distinction, his acclaimed novel about nineteenth-century Paris, Paul La Farge turns his imagination to America at the dawn of the twenty-first century.
In September 2000, a young programmer comes home from a festival in the Nevada desert and learns that his grandfather has died, and that he has to return to Thebes, a town which is so isolated that its inhabitants have their own language, in order to clean out the house where his family lived for five generations. While he's there, he runs into Yesim, a Turkish American woman whom he loved as a child, and begins a romance in which past and present are dangerously confused. At the same time, he remembers San Francisco in the wild years of the Internet boom, and mourns the loss of Swan, a madman who may have been the only person to understand what was happening to the city, and to the world.
Luminous Airplanes has a singular form: the novel, complete in itself, is accompanied by an online "immersive text," which continues the story and complements it. Nearly ten years in the making, La Farge's ambitious new work considers large worlds and small ones, love, memory, family, flying machines, dance music, and the end of the world.
CONTACT WITH OTHER WORLDS
I had just come home from a festival in Nevada, the theme of which was Contact with Other Worlds, when my mother, or, I should say, one of my mothers, called to tell me that my grandfather had died.
"I've been trying to reach you for days," she said. "Where were you?"
I told her I'd been camping. I didn't tell her I was at a pagan celebration where people danced around bonfires, a kind of dress rehearsal for the end of the world. I didn't mention the huge glowing fish or the women with wings.
Celeste told me that my grandfather had died on Thursday morning, around the time when I was leaving San Francisco in my friends' big white RV. My uncle Charles found him collapsed at his desk. He'd had a heart attack, the doctor said. His death was quick and probably not painful.
"That's good," I said, still dazed from the drugs I'd taken at the festival and the nights I'd gone without sleep. "When is the funeral?"
"It was this morning."
"You had it ...
La Farge has done a masterful job creating a world that is at once emotionally real and self-consciously literary on every page. The prose is sharp and beautiful, and the characters are so engaging they may lull the reader into thinking of Luminous Airplanes as a conventional novel. It isn't... [But it] is as delicately constructed as a lyric poem - every detail is carefully connected by the finest of threads. The story is funny and loving and imaginative, and at every turn there is evidence of a keen and generous intelligence at work behind the scenes. This is a book that demands to be read again.
(Reviewed by Jennifer G Wilder).
Full Review (738 words).
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.
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 ...
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