Friday, September 30, 2011

"Luminous Airplanes"

Paul La Farge is the author of the novels The Artist of the Missing and Haussmann, or the Dis­tinction; and a book of imaginary dreams, The Facts of Win­ter. His short stories have appeared in McSweeney’s, Harper’s Magazine, Fence, Conjunctions, and elsewhere. His nonfiction appears in The Believer, Bookforum, Playboy, and Cabinet.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Luminous Airplanes, and reported the following:
Luminous Airplanes is a novel about a young computer programmer who’s been living in San Francisco through the dot-com boom. When his grandfather dies, in the fall of 2000, he returns to a small town in upstate New York to sort through his grandparents’ possessions. He does some mental sorting of his own while he’s there, and page 69 of the book finds him thinking about his first encounter with a real computer, in his friend’s bedroom, circa 1982:
Computers belonged, at that point, more to my imaginary world than to the world I shared with other people. Computers were 2001 and Forbidden Planet; they were big, blinking cabinets, sinister friends who did what you wanted to but couldn’t, like causing the New York subway to trap your enemies in perpetual darkness, or could but didn’t want to, like math homework. They looked nothing like the Heathkit H88 on Kerem’s desk, a gray box like a bulbous TV set, devoid of lights and switches, an appliance that was no more exciting in appearance than my grandmother’s microwave oven, and considerably less exciting than her electric toothbrush, which, with its rocket-ship styling and brightly colored interchangeable heads, its three speeds and warm rechargeable battery, seemed truly to announce the beginning of a new era.
This computer is going to change the narrator’s life. It will earn him his first kiss, and get him expelled from the Nederland School for Boys. Many years later, he’ll drop out of a graduate program in American History and begin a new life coding databases for a Web startup: the seduction of the world behind the screen proves impossible to resist. And years after that, after Luminous Airplanes the novel ends, when the narrator has already ruined everything, and finds himself living a hermit’s life in New Haven, CT, he will undertake once again to fulfill the dream he had when he was working on this Heathkit H88, to make a “world of words without end,” a theoretically limitless story in which the mysteries of his heart and his world ramify like the passages of a cave. He’ll make it, too. It’s online.
Learn more about the book and author at Paul La Farge's website and Luminous Airplanes.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue