Private: Chang-Rae Lee profiled

In anticipation of Chang-Rae Lee’s latest novel, Aloft, which appears this week, Charles McGrath profiles the author, describing him as:

probably the most unwriterly writer I know. He’s cheerful and well adjusted, a homebody, a 10-handicap golfer and a serious foodie. He seldom goes to book parties, and he doesn’t follow the literary gossip. In the darker, more invidious corners of literary New York, it is sometimes said of him, as it is of a few others thought to be unnaturally nice, that his apparent happiness and lack of problems must be a coverup for something really messed up.

McGrath finds little evidence of anything amiss, but hints that Lee’s own upbringing may contribute to the alienation of his characters. The author says his mother was smart, passionate, even aggressive, but only in Korean. In English, she was nothing of the sort. Lee speaks of “the great divide between her private human personality and the expression of it in public” and then reminisces about his own experience of growing up Korean in a white community:

The funny thing about growing up in a town where you’re one of a few Asian kids or minorities is you don’t really see yourself. Everyone else sees you, and you get a kind of vibe, but you never actually see yourself.

Film rights to Aloft were sold in December. The book is expected to have “the breakout potential” of Franzen’s The Corrections