Such is Pardlo Jr.’s style—the syntax and thought process sinuous, elegant, the mood one of blunt disclosure ... The book’s prose is often exhilarating ... One of the difficult things about this fascinating book is that the father, so flawed and infuriating, has so many great lines. Another is the feeling of absence in the prose itself, which never lacks in perception but often feels lacking in intimacy with the characters, including the character of Gregory Pardlo, Jr., once he is no longer a child. But then the difficulties of intimacy—of spacing, to put it in air traffic controller terms—are the book’s subject.
Air Traffic is a narrative digest of his life and those of his family members, several of whom also experienced dramatic rises and falls. The poet delves deeply into a mosaic of memories, chronicling growing up black in Willingboro, New Jersey, in the 1970s and the battles he, his brother, father and other relatives have fought with depression, alcoholism and mental illness ... Pardlo seems to be defying the odds, turning his pain into mesmerizing poetry and prose.
In prose at once lucid, lyrical and rich in simile, Pardlo historicizes his grandfathers’ migration to the East Coast, his family’s middle-class life in suburban New Jersey, episodes of adolescent strife and his hasty enlistment in the Marine Corps Reserve ... The book shifts midway to a collection of short essays that show an enviable talent for aphorism. Pardlo examines the existential quality of mutual orgasms, his marriages, the role of time in the lives of African-Americans and his experiences raising two daughters. The topic of race is never far, though Pardlo appears conflicted. He asserts he isn’t a 'practicing black' ... Those statements beg deeper explication. And there are other moments that would have benefited from a more sustained investigation ... Pardlo is perhaps most vulnerable and incisive on the topic of addiction. He acknowledges his grandparents’ struggle with alcoholism, reflects on his father’s and brother’s fights with substance abuse and his own decades-long battle ... Had he lived long enough to read Air Traffic, one hopes he [Pardlo's father] could have seen past his hubris and their strained relations to offer what might be Pardlo’s most coveted review: Well done, son. You did good.