Mathematical genius Keith Corcoran seems perfectly at home as one of the
on-duty astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS). While Keith’s life has been fully lived on the Earth, this troubled and brilliant man has never really accepted his terra firma existence, where his longings and
goals are grounded in the loyal support of his wife, Barb, and his teenage daughter, Quinn.
Keith’s work on the ISS is his moment of greatness. There
is a rush of pride that Keith has led a relevant life, up until now defined by sets of equations and fields of numbers that he has imagined for all of his existence. As Keith and his buddy Eriksson float through space, tethered to the body of the giant space-station, Keith can’t help but admire the darkness of space and the dazzling contrast of blazing light that is the distant stars.
After Keith receives devastating news about Quinn, sudden feelings of panic and by a series of inexplicably debilitating headaches
begin to plague him. With his body adrift in the infinite reaches of space, he
experiences a feeling of turbulence, “like an infinite and ever-moving cloud.”
He has to learn to handle the brittle shards of a grief that he has so far managed to avoid.
Back on Earth, amid the heat, humidity and stagnant air, everything comes to a motionless stop.
Vague confusion as to what Keith is to do next arises. Quinn is gone, and Barb, in desperation, has moved out of the house they shared on their quiet suburban cul-de-sac. Left with
few furnishings, a feeble Keith must try to open his eyes to a new sense of gravity. As he walks through the bewilderingly bare rooms, dreaming of the ISS with a heavy
and constant fatigue, time for Keith becomes “an abstraction of meaning.”
Jennifer, the provocative neighbor who lives just across the street, comes across as a “jungle cat,” and her tangled sexuality seems to calm Keith, if only for while. As Keith begins the slow and meticulous process of painting the house in preparation for sale, only Ukrainian Peter--a kindly immigrant and amateur astronomer--can offer him some solutions to his grief as
Keith's ramshackle mind returns again and again to the memory of the ISS, Barb, and his beloved Quinn.
In meditative prose (with gorgeous descriptions of the ISS orbiting far above the Earth), Kiefer’s poetic tale
encompasses moments of great grandeur and also great heartbreak. The author peeks deep into Keith’s internal dramas: his emotional tugs-of-war, failed marriage, and misplaced ambition. The novel exposes one man’s sadness from the inside and the painful nature of his personal failings. The irony is that in all of Keith’s mathematical superiority, he has failed to rise above the passionate weaknesses that have come to define so much of his personal life.
The universe’s black ocean symbolically stands above Keith while the bright lamplights of the cul-de-sac orbit him. We’re left with a stark reminder of hubris as Keith thrashes against the constraints of isolation. Kiefer gets top marks for creating an atmosphere of loss, his hero standing out as a prototype for modern manhood--creative and wise, but also deeply flawed as he seeks to remake his life in the face of great misfortune and tragedy.