Shine, Shine, Shine / Lydia Netzger
New York: St Martin's, c2012.
A modern novel that I read on my holidays, Shine, Shine, Shine has various elements that appeal to me -- most particularly, the fact that the husband in the story is an astronaut, of sorts.
But this is a peculiar book in some ways, a combination of realism and speculative fiction. Maxon (the husband) is a robot engineer who is going on a mission to the moon, to set up a robotic mining colony. His pregnant wife, Sunny, is left behind to wait and worry, along with their autistic toddler son.
Oh, and Sunny is also completely bald (alopecia), something she has tried to hide from their perfect suburban neighbours for years. Plus her father is long dead, a missionary in Burma until he was arrested and she and her mother fled the country. Can't forget, she also feels guilty for her responsibility in the death of a man long ago...
Maxon, on the other hand, isn't stressed or guilty about much: he is so totally focused on his mission, on math and on robots. He is also extremely similar to their autistic son, and thinks that this characteristic is an evolutionary step toward creating robotic humans who will be able to colonize space.
So there is a lot going on in this book, and some of it worked very well. I enjoyed Sunny and Maxon's relationship, all the way from their chance meeting as young children to their current marital struggles. I loved Maxon's job and his fixation on math and dislike of social occasions. How can I not love a book in which the labyrinth appears? At one point it is mentioned that the one pathway of the labyrinth might be a better (or equal) metaphor for life than Mason's belief in the ever-branching mathematical model of chance. Are things always changing on a breath of a moment, or are we always following The Path no matter what happens? This was an interesting aside, I thought!
I generally enjoyed this read, but did find that there were a lot of strands being pulled together, and the one element I didn't like as much was Sunny's current life in suburbia. When she had her first child she seems to have locked herself away into a Stepford model, and I'm not sure that I was completely convinced with her reversal. Also, the finale of the book was way over the top, with Sunny's odd response to going into labour...I won't say more, but it seemed strange and unlikely.
Still, the level of invention and freshness in the storyline was really notable. I loved the combo of real and speculative, just enough of both that you believed the likelihood of Maxon's space mission. If you enjoy tv shows about quirky suburban wives, astronauts, or family dramas told with theatrical pacing, you might also like this book.