: Up in the air (9780307476296) : Walter Kirn : Books
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Up In The Air

by Walter Kirn
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Anchor
  • Publishing date: 24/11/2009
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9780307476296
  • ISBN: 0307476294


The hero of Walter Kirn's novel Up in the Air inhabits an entirely new state: Airworld, where the hometown paper is USA Today, the indigenous cuisine wilts under heat lamps, and the citizenry speaks a Byzantine dialect of upgrades, expense accounts, and market share. Airworld even has its own nontaxable, inflation-free currency in the shape of bonus miles, which Ryan Bingham calls "private property in its purest form." Officially, Bingham is a management consultant, specializing in the lugubrious field of career transition counseling (i.e., he fires people for a living). But what Kirn's airborne protagonist is really doing is pursuing his own private passion, his great white whale: accumulating one million miles in his frequent-flyer account. As Up in the Air opens, Bingham has set out on a final, epic traveling jag. He intends to visit eight cities in six days, thereby achieving his own vision of Nirvana somewhere over Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Mocking the euphemisms of business speak is as easy as shooting fish in a designer barrel. But Kirn also takes on the corporate world's weirdly mystical and paranoid side, its rhetoric of personal empowerment and its messianic devotion to gurus. "Business is folk wisdom, cave-born, dark, Masonic, and the best consultants are outright shamans who sprinkle on the science like so much fairy dust," declares Bingham. (This doesn't stop him from working on his own book about "the transformational journey of one mind wholly at peace with its core competencies.") Meanwhile, his junket becomes progressively more surreal, complete with an evil nemesis as well as a mysteriously powerful firm called MythTech that's working behind the scenes. And what's worse, someone seems to have stolen his identity, assuming control of his credit cards and his all-important miles.

Is this model consumer being tracked as he makes his purchasing decisions, like an elk tagged by wildlife biologists? Or is he merely losing his mind? The ending answers these questions perhaps a little too neatly, but Kirn's disturbing satire packs a mighty wallop nonetheless. The writing is as sharp as a tack, punctuated by character sketches as brilliant as they are quick. Bingham and his ilk are modern nomads, dispossessed of physicality but not quite of their bodies. His simulated environment is not mimicking an actual place but replacing it--and that, to the author, is the scariest part of Airworld: "This is the place to see America, not down there, where the show is almost over." --Mary Park

Up in the Air is now a major motion picture starring George Clooney, Jason Bateman, and Anna Kendrick, and directed by Jason Reitman. Enjoy these images from the film, and click the thumbnails to see larger images.

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  • Up in the air - worst movie I've ever seen
    From Amazon

    Ok, this is a black or dark comedy. No, sorry, it is not. Horrible acting, horrible plot. I've worked in Human Resources for many years, with one of my responsibles laying employees off. It is the most difficult thing I endure, and personally feel for each and every one (and their families) who are affected. To see a movie dwell on the emotions of the individuals so affected is truly disturbing to me, bringing back every negative memory I have on this issue. The key scene centers on a 57 year old employee with 17 years of service being laid off by use of a video cam. After spending a minute or so of crying, he's yelled at to return to his cubicle, pack up and depart. How could anyone enjoy this - especially in this economy. Ruthless and pathetic. I know most women think George Clooney is the sexiest man alive and probably saw this move just to see him. His acting is horrible, the plot is horrible, the characters are poorly chosen, all in all a disaster. I never thought I'd say this, but Ben and Jen comparatively speaking deserve an oscar. If I could write to the director and producer I would. Please don't see this. I can't seem to get this critically acclaimed piece of crap out of my head.

  • pointless and boring
    From Amazon

    Whoever did the screenplay for the movie did a heck of a job on this dull plotless book. I assume the author was aiming for "the Blade Runner in the Grey Flannel Suit" but the book is more like "Death of the Velveeta Salesman." The protagonist is nuts, but not in an interesting way, mostly you'll be turning the pages thinking "who cares!" A million frequent flyer miles is only a couple of years flying domestically - a couple hundred thousand physical miles with all the tie-in and the affinity cards. A million physical miles is much more of a challenge.

  • Quite a Mess
    From Amazon

    There are some wonderful bits of writing in this novel and it's interesting to see the original work that was adapted into the award-winning film. Anyone who has traveled frequently on business will relate to the protagonist's perception of "Airworld," and the disassociation of dipping in an out of multiple states and cities and lives. But overall the book cries out for an editor with a sharp pencil. There are too many characters, many of whom are introduced and then forgotten. There are too many subplots, and the minor characters are only sketches. And the twist at the end seems tacked on. You can see why it was picked up as a promising core for a screenplay (and why the book sat on the shelf for nearly a decade before that happened), but also why the film excised and adapted so much of the content.

  • Unengaging. Completely opposite of the film.
    From Amazon

    I read the novels that films are based on after I see the film. I like to discover how the screenplay was adapted and what was changed. In the case of Up In The Air - which was a really good film - I have no idea why the producers even felt the need to buy the film rights to this novel. The movie, characters, plot, etc are a 180 from the book. That said the writing is very lofty and psuedo-intellectual. I thought maybe I wasn't engaged because this was written by a man about a professional man who was sort of 'lost' like he was having a mid-aged criss about 10 years too early. So, I wasn't the target audience, right? Well I was glad to read reviews dating back to 2001 and 2002 from male readers who really summed it up better than I. Check out the reviews of Richard Hadden and Steve McInerney in the 2 stars link above. What they both wrote is right on. On another note, this book was written and released pre-Sept. 11th, 2001 and obviously some of the logistics as well as the glamour of frequent business traveling has changed much. spoiler --- don't read further.. the end, creepy, weird, I thought a Fatal Attraction on acid ending was coming.

  • The Ideas are Better Than the Writing
    From Amazon

    I picked up this book because I'm one of those over-travelled business types that have seen too much of airports and airplanes. I was curious about the story of a guy who not only endures this sterile environment but actually thrives in it. It turns out that airports and travel may be a major part of the book but not its main point; but it takes quite a while before the author gets around to tying things together and revealing what that point is. The book isn't really plot-driven, which is fine--I've read a lot of contemporary novels that don't rely on plot--but the middle section of the book seems to wander quite a bit, with a disjointed pastiche of cliches, e.g. trysts in Vegas, runaway brides, conspiracy theories, lecherous TV personalities, etc. The larger theme which ultimately emerges is something along the lines that Americans are pursuing corporate culture as a means of salvation, but that it's all illusory. The main character, Ryan Bingham, seems to confuse his strange, disjointed, anonymous and standardized existence with a sort of transcendent, higher level of being, beyond time and place. His travelling businessman's life seems to be, for him, some kind of path to self-fulfillment which he'll obtain when he hits 1 million frequent flyer miles and gets a job with a mysterious, futuristic and almost virtual company called MythTech. After he has obtained this Holy Grail, he will be able to cease his seemingly endless travels. But this ultimately shows how deranged he is. He may believe he's evolving upward but really he's just dissolving before our eyes, as he lives nowhere, doesn't believe in place, and is interchangeable: as far as The System is concerned, he's indistinguishable from indentity thieves who steal his credit and his cherished frequent flyer miles. Actually, everyone in the book is interchangeable and dispensible--it seems like everyone is either being made redunant or is about to be made redundant. The "higher" level of existence that Bingham is looking for turns out ultimately to be smoke and mirrors. This is an interesting theme, but I'm not sure it's enough to save the book, because Kirn's narrative skills aren't very compelling. The reader is presented with a lot of episodic material that seems to have no particular purpose and he waits until the end of the book to reveal how it all fits together--like it was a mystery novel, but one without a plot driving it forward to its conclusion. And the book's dialogue is really irritating; everyone speaks the same way, like world-weary smart-alecks, in clipped, short sentences. Even the airport VIP lounge hostesses talk this way. Multiple characters, but only one voice. And Kirn seems satisfied to typecast persons and situations rather than get below the surface; he seems to think it's telling that the hotel band is playing "Radar Love", that the person sitting next to Bingham on the plane is wearing khakis and a golf shirt, that Bingham's girlfriend is wearing a certain brand of pajamas--all of which are supposed to allow the reader to, I guess, instantly peg the characters and their environments. But it comes off as glib and dismissive. The promos for the movie adaptation seem to hint at a story in which Bingham has a moment of redemption in which he realizes the emptiness of his isolation and tries to get closer to people, etc. The novel is not at all like this. Bingham's path in the novel is pretty dry and completely devoid of feel-good warmth and wisdom. That may make it an unpleasant read for some. It's a fairly clever, if not-too-well crafted, book that has its moments but doesn't really succeed.

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