Picks and Pans Review: Aloft

updated 03/08/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/08/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

By Chang-Rae Lee
NOVEL

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Following two acclaimed novels featuring Asian-American protagonists (Native Speaker, A Gesture Life), Lee's third book has a surprising point of view. Narrator Jerry Battle is a 59-year-old Italian-American who enjoys flying his Cessna on short jaunts from his Long Island suburb. The beautiful descriptions of his solo flights set the tone and theme of the book, since Jerry is a man who has become disconnected from his family. His aging warhorse father is bitterly waiting out his days in a care facility. His son is expanding the family landscaping business a bit recklessly and living in a luxurious mini-mansion. Jerry's girlfriend of 20 years has recently left him, and even the happy engagement of his daughter brings the disturbing news that she has cancer.

There's drama galore in these moneyed towns, and Lee lays it out in graceful prose that charms the reader completely. Aloft is a pleasing book in nearly every respect, and a remarkably sensitive portrait of Jerry Battle. Fairly or unfairly, the territory Lee explores here invites comparisons to recent tours de force by Richard Ford and Jonathan Franzen, and even to works by masters like John Cheever and John Updike. That's difficult competition even for a writer as skilled and intelligent as Lee.

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