Terrestrials: A Novel of Aviation

Paul West, Author Scribner Book Company $24 (384p) ISBN 978-0-684-80032-5
West's latest novel (after The Tent of the Orange Mist) begins with a conceit: the narrator is identified as One Eighth Humbly, an alien from outer space. The densely textured story he tells concerns Booth and Clegg, two pilots who are forced to bail out of their high-speed, top-secret reconnaissance plane when it's shot down over Ethiopia. Booth lands in a salt desert while Clegg hangs from his parachute on the face of a tall cliff. After both are rescued a few days later, each is questioned with truth serums and sent to the Pentagon, where they remain as virtual prisoners. The reason for their treatment soon becomes clear: unknown to Clegg, Booth has been acting as a double agent for (or against) the Russians. The pilots escape and find their way to the Finger Lakes region of New York, where they begin their next career as the owner-operators of a small airline. Their real occupation, however, is making sense of their Air Force mission and their larger fate. Booth and Clegg reflect on the Battle of Britain, black-box conversations from a number of airplane crashes, literature, language and culture, always returning to their encyclopedic knowledge of the history of aviation as a universal metaphor and source of understanding. Casual readers may lose patience with the sheer density of the alien narrator's exposition and carefully calculated flubs and formalities. The persistent, however, will savor the way West, an accomplished stylist, explores the dilemma of Booth and Clegg: knowledgeable yet unknowing, they are two high-tech pilots in Plato's Cave puzzling out the mystery of their terrestrial lives. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/01/1997
Release date: 09/01/1997
X
Stay ahead with
Tip Sheet!
Free newsletter: the hottest new books, features and more
X
Only $18.95/month for Digital Access
or $20.95 for Print+Digital Access!
X
Only $18.95/month for Digital Access
or $20.95 for Print+Digital Access!
X
Email Address

Password

Log In Lost Password

PW has integrated its print and digital subscriptions, offering exciting new benefits to subscribers, who are now entitled to both the print edition and the digital editions of PW (online or via our app). For instructions on how to set up your accout for digital access, click here. For more information, click here.

The part of the site you are trying to access is now available to subscribers only. Subscribers: to set up your digital subscription with the new system (if you have not done so already), click here. To subscribe, click here.

Email pw@pubservice.com with questions.

Not Registered? Click here.