Thursday, September 04, 2014

God is an Astronaut

God Is An Astronaut / Alyson Foster
New York: Bloomsbury, c2014
289 p.

I recently wrote a review of this novel for our local paper, the Stratford Gazette. You can find my thoughts below.

But for my blog readers, I also want to add that this book is a fine example of a modern epistolary novel. It's told in one-way emails, from Jess to her absent colleague Arthur (someone who is closer to her than we first realize). This one-way device adds some mystery and poignancy to the story, and I think as a technique it fits in quite well with Jess' character. Feeling alone and unlistened to, Jess would naturally write emails to someone who is -- or was -- there for her emotionally. Even though we see everything through Jess' eyes, all of the characters have a presence, though of course mostly in how they relate to her.

I enjoyed this one as a quieter read, with a focus on the internal shift that Jess is experiencing.

This review first appeared in the Stratford Gazette on Thursday, September 4th.

Jess Frobisher is all about plants; her husband Liam is all about space. Somehow they’ve always met in the middle – until now. Jess is a botany professor at a small college, and as the story opens she is madly digging up her yard to put in an enormous greenhouse. This greenhouse is fated to fail; just as in her wider life, growth and fecundity is stagnating. Liam, on the other hand, is in the midst of a maelstrom. His space tourism company, Spaceco, is being beseiged with press after their latest shuttle exploded after takeoff with four celebrity tourists onboard.

Jess wants to help, but Liam's propensity for secrets and emotional distance puts her at a major disadvantage. She is so thirsty for emotional connection that she talks to a reporter who has made overtures of friendship. This, as you might imagine, has vast repercussions on both Spaceco's crisis and on her marriage.

As this crisis continues, Liam jumps at an offer from a husband-and-wife filmmaking team to create a documentary about Spaceco and the families behind it. He’s hoping that it will result in some good PR spin. But being put in the spotlight (literally) changes the way the story unfolds for Jess and Liam.

The story is told in a series of emails that Jess sends to her colleague Arthur, who has gone on sabbatical to study trees in Manitoba. Yes, he is near Winnipeg, and there is some Canadian content here, including a discussion of the relative merits of Tim Hortons' doughnuts (or 'donuts' if you will). The format of the book – we see only Jess's one sided emails -- gives us a slowly expanding sense of the truth of all her relationships and of the major events that she is relating. As the emails get longer, and the story deepens, we see that sometimes our true desires are hidden even from ourselves, until they are suddenly there in black and white.

It’s an engaging read, set just far enough into the future that space tourism is a reality, but also very grounded in our everyday normality. Jess writes her way through a dramatic midlife crisis, and makes her way through to the other side, taking readers along for the ride. Readers who enjoy getting to know their characters well will want to pick up this book.

Further Reading:

Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzger has a similar setup with an emotionally distant, space-focused husband and increasingly anxious/unsettled wife. It also focuses on character and relationship.

If you enjoyed the format, and the theme of a woman in an uncertain midlife marriage, try Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon next, a story told in emails, facebook updates, texts and more.


  1. Love the idea of this book--watching a story unfold through one-sided emails--it takes a talented writer to make that work. You always find the best epistolary fiction. Which is good. Cause then I can read it, too. :)

    1. This one really did work. I'm still feeling good about it in retrospect, always a good sign ;) I liked the main character -- she wasn't too whiny, and she made things happen despite her crisis.

  2. One-way emails? Even it it didn't work (I'm shocked that it didn't feel contrived or gimmicky), I'd have given props for the bravery/creativity to take it on. That it did work? Well, now I want to read it!

    1. I've read a couple of 'one way' correspondence novels -- Lynn Coady's The Antagonist, Elizabeth von Arnim's Fraulein Schmidt & Mr. Anstruther -- which really worked as well. It's a tough line, though. This one was a little lighter, and perhaps the veracity of what Jess could have possibly known was a bit stretched, but still, I thought it did work, and was fun reading.


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