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Exult, a novel
Exult, a novel
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Paperback
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BOOK DETAILS

  • Paperback
  • 9780975361580

Joe gives an overview of the book:

Is a full life worth an early death?  Jack Ostruck loves hang gliding, but his passion for the skies drains his passion for life on earth.  When someone he loves dies in a crash, the greiving mother demands that Jack come to the funeral and explain why flying is worth her child's death.  Jack's search for the answer will take him to mortuaries, mountaintops, eagle's nests, the heart of a storm, and finally to a funeral, where he delivers the answer. First 150 pages are available free on Scribd. "There is gusto in Exult. Quirk dares ask some of life's most fundamental questions: Why do we die, and after we are gone, will we have meant anything at all? How should we spend the time we have been given on this earth?" -- Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns "I loved this bird's-eye look into the curious subculture of...
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Is a full life worth an early death?

 Jack Ostruck loves hang gliding, but his passion for the skies drains his passion for life on earth.  When someone he loves dies in a crash, the greiving mother demands that Jack come to the funeral and explain why flying is worth her child's death.  Jack's search for the answer will take him to mortuaries, mountaintops, eagle's nests, the heart of a storm, and finally to a funeral, where he delivers the answer.

First 150 pages are available free on Scribd.

"There is gusto in Exult. Quirk dares ask some of life's most fundamental questions: Why do we die, and after we are gone, will we have meant anything at all? How should we spend the time we have been given on this earth?"
-- Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns

"I loved this bird's-eye look into the curious subculture of hang gliding‚ but Joe Quirk's book is about so much more. Tumbling into his wonderfully told story of life, death, friendship and love is a thrill not to be missed."
-- Lolly Winston, author of Good Grief and Happiness Sold Separately

"Exult is a soaring novel about soaring -- but its nominal subject, hang gliding, is only a cover for its real goal: to express, in words that have the compression and punch of the best poetry, what it means to be truly alive."
-- Mike Chorost, author of Rebuilt: How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human, winner of the 2006 PEN award for Creative Nonfiction.

"Twenty pages in and my adrenaline surges, heart in my throat. Joe Quirk's prose is exquisite and his plotting impeccable. Instead of a five star review, this book gets a galaxy."
-- Erika Mailman, author of A Woman of Ill Fame and Witch's Trinity, which was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award
 

Read an excerpt »

"Readyyyy ... CLEAR!!"

I yell through my fear, look straight out at the horizon, and charge directly at that cliff.  As I run, the rattling down tubes are lifted off my shoulders as if God is plucking up my kite by her kingpost.  Straps yank up at my crotch as, five feet from the edge, I increase to a full-throttle sprint.  Then I do what every cell in my body is screaming at me not to do:  I run off the edge of the cliff.

Heart lifts.  Feet touch nothing.  Sound stops.  Vertigo opens out beneath me.  The jagged rocks zip out of my view like a slide being yanked away, and I am soaring five thousand feet above the earth, held up by nothing but this buoyant joy.  In this instant my body's corporeality evaporates.  My soul rises up and recognizes its home.  I am flying— flying!

Woo-hoos issue from behind me, from a dimension I only faintly remember.  I am a new creature, returning to where he belongs.  The physiological symptoms of fear and exultation are the same:  heart palpitates, senses widen, breath shortens, time slows, every detail becomes crisp.  All I hear is the flutter of my Dacron sail.  I am an angel looking down at the tiny toy trees and barns.  Those little white aphids are cows!  Those gnats circling below me are hawks!

Goose-pimples shiver down my body.  That little pond, laying like a fallen tile of sky, draws my attention like the earth's eye.  I have been trained to note it, then never look at it again.

Damn!  I took too sweeping a view, and vertigo dizzies my brain and fills me with nausea.  I close my eyes and shake blood back to my face.  My stomach coagulates, my bowels loosen— I've shit my pants before; we all have.  The sky can literally scare the shit out of you, send you into a rocketing plummet, bat you back and forth and turn you upside down.  That's when I know air is not emptiness, but invisible Jell-O, blooming up at me, tickling gooily over my body and bouncing me around in a Jell-O playland.

Whoa!  There's a gust!  My left wing lifts violently.  My kite rolls to a dangerous forty-five-degree slant.  If my wing tips too far at this speed, I'll fall sideways at a steep bank.  Amid the rout and panic of my nerves, I grit my teeth and call on my pilot's discipline.  I steadily— not jerkily!— shift my butt to the left.  Slowly, the kite evens out.

I've got to concentrate through this first minute of joy and terror.  If I'm going to get killed, it happens right now, in the first minute after launching.  Keep the bar pulled in a bit, get a good speed going.  Speed is my friend.

I kick into my pod stirrup, stretch it back with my heels, and zip up my useless legs like they're luggage.  Now I am streamlined.  Let's get some speed into this baby.

Boom.  Go aggressive.  Increase angle of attack.  Keep the bar pulled in, but not too pulled in.  Fight against the Vulcan Death Grip.  I've got to dangle over the dizzying space by the 'biner in my back.  Feel the metal bar!  Alive and pulsing, it tells me what to do.  I am nothing but senses now, my body useless ballast.  If I let my tellurian nerves get control, I will panic, grab bars, defile my gentle glider with brutish wrestlings, lose air consciousness, and I will crash and die.  Become the eagle.

I must embrace many paradoxes.  I've got to trust my nerves, then know when to betray them before they can betray me.  I've trained myself when to trust what I feel, and when to defy what I feel. 

I know with every thread of my being that I am blown sideways, turned ninety degrees!  I am hurtling down and ready to crash!

Yet the horizon is wrong.  It's sideways.  Trust the horizon.  Gravity lies.  My body lies.  My eyes and ears and balance all lie.  But the horizon does not lie.  Keep my eyes on the prize, ignore the experience of hurtling straight down to my death, and know that those snowy peaks are not sideways.  Do what the zany horizon says, stay calm as I experience the rollercoaster, and the horizon will right my mind as it has already righted my kite.  G-forces turn gravity sideways, upside-down, lessen then increase it.  The straps supporting my shoulders and crotch tug, then slacken, then I am floating without their support, flying without wings!  It's all a lie.  I am not in charge of my experience any more, the sky is.  The horizon is my only compass through my confusion and terror.

Terror is good.  Panic is bad.  Terror floods my senses with adrenaline.  Panic overloads and shuts them down.  I've moved fast away from the cliff.  I am out in the middle of the air, far from any terrestrial body and quickly gaining distance.  I might as well be a thousand miles from any planet now.  It's amazing how fast the earth— the beast you call your mother— becomes irrelevant.  I no longer move in relation to it.  I move in relation to air movements.  Now the earth is just a big bumpy obstacle that intermittently affects the air currents.

The radio clipped to my down tube crackles.  Laura's voice, from eons away in the dirt dimension.  "Radcliff's launched, Jack."  She has to announce it because Radcliff has to concentrate for the first few minutes after his launch to get him through the danger zone and far out into the safe padding of the air.

Okay, I'm far out, far away from any nasty solid object that can kill me.  If I fuck up now, I have plenty of plummeting time to correct and regain balance.  No more gasping.  Breathe.

Ah, now we get into some clean air.  Beautiful.  It's silk.  A storm roars in my ears, but over my body flows total serenity.  I'm free to frolic.  I feel like I've just been born.  I can't resist sporting about, exploring cathedrals of air, doubling back to re-experience choice sections and accidentally finding new involutions.  Each inch of space is fractal in its wonders.  Air is a celebration of pure energy.  It loves me.  At this moment I am so happy.  I want this moment forever.  I can taste what angels know.

God!  God!  How do I forget?  How do I forget how immense I am?  How do I forget how widely my soul cracks open when a great view, normally seen straight out, widens one-hundred-eighty degrees to include straight down, when the ground that has anchored the animal's sense of self since we first left the seas disappears, when the permanent frame to my vision slides away?  How, when I return to the earth, do I forget what I am?  Perhaps joy, like pain, is inherently unevokable.  But when it is happening, it is so real.  Never again will I walk the earth and forget that the ground limits how I see, keeps me thinking mean and small, blinds me to my own divinity.  At this moment, the great reference point from which I have always seen everything is banished from my vision, and I am a three-hundred-sixty degree eye.  To soar is to dive into the space between thoughts.  That space is meaningless.  That space is infinite.

It's too beautiful.  This is more joy than my chest was built to contain.  Joy bursts out my eyes, fills my goggles like fishbowls, and leaks all over my face.  Now I understand what the poets mean by "overflowing" joy.  Joy is not internal.  It busts me open, flows into the world, and I must dance.  True joy is bigger than me.  It contains me.  It uses me as portal, and it can split me wide.  Its home is in the sky.

Twenty-six years I've lived, and I've never known what joy is.  This is how men give birth.

The sky is my playground.  Straight down, California looks like Ireland.  To the east, paprika hills look like New Mexico.  The sand traps of a golf course are peanuts in an Easter basket.  I could run my toes through those tiny trees.  When I turn my tail to the low sun, I can see my triangular shadow, silhouette the size of a city, straight out against the distant odalisque hills.

I lose awareness of my body and gain absolute awareness of my wings.  With my soft doughy hands on the control bar, my kite is filigreed with tender nerves that run straight to my brain.  I know my wingtips, know my wire tendons, know the tender underbelly of my kite as if I have just unfolded them from some deep wet womb.  I swear my consciousness cracks out of its larval shell and sprouts a brainspur that knows flying.  It's as if my wings have been returned to me after some interuterine amputation.

Moment one of being airborne, I know I will fight through every second to never touch the earth again.  I will begrudge every momentary sink, seize every paltry lift.  Down through my eventual and inevitable descent, my mind will tantrum no! no! no! like a toddler dragged out of Candyland.  Will I break my back to carry Icarus back up to soar again?  Damn right, I will.  I land safely not to save my life, but to secure one more chance to fly.  Forget risk.  I will never deny this joy.  I will forsake all other humans to fly every day for the rest of my life.  People aren't as real as flight.  I am married to this drug.  This is when the fear evaporates, and fear is my last ally.  It's always at this fearless moment of exultation when death comes.

But that's okay.  This moment, right now, is more important than my entire life.  Knowing my divinity is more important than the whole life I have so far experienced.  And intrinsic to the pilot's gamble is that this moment is also more important than the life I could yet live.

Then— God, it's too good to be true— a momentary flutter-fwap of my wings, and I know it psychically:  A thermal, thataway, straight over the baseball diamond, twenty degrees off wind-direction.

 

 

Thermals always hatch from warm places on the ground.  Pull in, shift my weight, dip my wing, go roundabout, and approach it from a wide angle so I can fly straight into the wind when I hit it.  Gotta come in brisk— but not too brisk— and stab my left wingtip into its heart.

I'm moving in like a falcon.  I watch the volcano approach, though I can't see it.  I listen to it rumble, though I can't hear it.  All the faculties of my mind spontaneously make the calculations and draw a rapid gestalt, like a sudden alignment of stars, the discoverer's ah-ha!  It's an unanalysable and ineffable knowing, a mystical aeromancy acquired from the wind directions, the conflicting air layers, the clouds, the smells, the general data gathered by all my senses during the course of this morning, and how all those variables affect each other.  Man, look at it.  Feel it.  It's perfect.  I'm gonna take this son of a bitch up to at least seven thousand feet.  Much of my later flying day will hatch from the perfect execution of this thermal entry.  If I fuck up, my day will be bad.  If I nail it, I am Superman for a day.  It's all about programming my nerves.

Here it comes.

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Note from the author coming soon...

About Joe

Joe Quirk is a bestselling novelist and bestselling science writer. His debut novel, The Ultimate Rush was a People Magazine Page-Turner Of The Week.

His new novel, Exult, is about hang gliders who live out the Icarus myth. It has won...

Read full bio »

Published Reviews

Sep.08.2009

From the Carmel Authors & Ideas Festival:

“Joe Quirk is a TV talk show darling for his hilarious non-fiction IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S BIOLOGY: THE SCIENCE OF LOVE, SEX & RELATIONSHIPS, making him a...

Sep.08.2009

From Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner (Riverhead Books, 2003) and
A Thousand Splendid Suns (Riverhead Books, 2006):

“There is gusto in Exult. It deals nakedly with some age-old human...