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.
“Luminous Airplanes turns out to be one of the best 9/11 novels I’ve read, not least because it is such an understated—almost unstated—addition to the genre. The terrorist attacks go unmentioned until its final pages, yet everything in it tends in the direction of that day: the implicit future trajectory of the flying machine; the Millerites’ obsession with the end of the world; the tension in Thebes between European-Americans and the Middle Eastern Regenzeits; the description of September weather; La Farge’s meditation on postmodernity’s impermanence . . . Luminous Airplanes isn’t about disconnection and meaninglessness. It is about connection and significance—about the way the past becomes the future, the contingent the inevitable, the spandrel the success, the success the tragedy. It is, in other words, about the ramifying, mysterious ways we human beings affect each other, from parent to child, invention to invention, generation to generation.” —Kathryn Schulz, The New York Times Book Review
“La Farge tells his tale of homecoming compassionately but without sentimentality. He has a knack for delivering details as if the reader had already accepted them and was welcoming each discursion freely. Rather than submitting to the darkness of the sleeping bag that is modern fiction, La Farge encourages his readers to search the sky for the signs that herald the return of loved ones we’ve lost. The search is a futile one, but nonetheless satisfying.” —Manoli Kouremetis, Time Out New York
“Captivating . . . A wry, provocative, and often hilarious coming-of-age tale.” —Karen Campbell, The Boston Globe
“The book is beautiful . . . La Farge has a light touch . . . [And Luminous Airplanes] is an easy book to pick up, put down, and pick up again.” —The Economist
“Luminous Airplanes hurtles through subjects such as gentrification, the internet bubble of the late 90s, the difficulties of staging an effective protest movement, and the psychic upheaval occasioned by September 11 . . . in manner that is commodious and vivid.” —Christopher Byrd, The Daily Beast
“Like some kind of freakishly gifted Olympic ice skater, Paul La Farge skates gracefully through decades of time, tracing the through lines from childhood games to the dramas and disintegrating dreams of adulthood. Our charming, hilarious narrator is caught in a grinding stasis created by “what I lacked the courage to pursue but could not let go”: his crummy programming job, his stillborn dissertation, his dead patriarchs, his impossible (plural) mothers, and the phoenix of Yesim, his beautiful, mildly hirsute, first love. This perfect figure-8 of a book links San Francisco’s tech boom to one nerdy kid’s quest to seduce a girl with a computer game to the quacky cul-de-sacs of early aeronautics history to sleepy 1980s upstate New York to the Millerites’ cosmic goof. Luminous Airplanes is a coming of age story like none other I’ve ever read, one that seems to exists simultaneously in the past and the present, in plausible futures and science-fictional realms. Luminous Airplanes is brilliant, poignant, startling, hilarious, and a really, really fun read. I loved it.” —Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia!
“This is one of the best works of fiction to come my way in a long time. Paul La Farge writes beautifully, with wit, humor and passion. He has created as thoroughly imagined a world as you would expect from Chekhov or Flaubert, and has bestowed upon two fictional families enough sympathy and care to rank himself among the best of parents. Luminous Airplanes is a quiet triumph of a book.” —Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story
“Paul La Farge’s Luminous Airplanes is itself a luminous book, an exquisitely polished small world of characters and emotions that captures a generation’s coming of age through the perspective of one young man.” —BookBrowse
“Paul La Farge’s novels have always been luminous, but in Luminous Airplanes his relentlessly sharp eye alights on our crazy present for the first time, knocking the new century against his strange and wondrous imagination. The results inhabit a recognizable world that feels brave and new, a social history that feels like science fiction, and a wild story that you could swear happened to friends of yours. It’s funny without sacrificing its serious intent; it’s ambitious without abandoning its intimate boundaries; it’s everything we want in a novel and quite a few things we hadn’t thought of until this moment. I closed this book with a tiny little sadness that I’d never again get to experience it for the first time.” —Daniel Handler, author of Adverbs
“[A] brilliantly imagined novel . . . La Farge spins his tale with the grace of an acrobat.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“[Luminous Airplanes] is a page-turning pleasure . . . [that] sustains a spirit of innocence and wonder.” —Kirkus Reviews