Botany professor, mother, troubled wife, manic gardener—and now an astronaut? Foster’s crammed debut tracks the hectic life of Jessica Frobisher, a woman encountering crises of conscience, loyalty and the heart.
Narrated in emails, most of them written from Jess to Arthur Danielson, her colleague at the University of Michigan and possibly her lover, this multithemed first novel packs a heavy fuel load but never achieves escape velocity. Jess’ full life and fraught marriage come under additional stress following a shuttle disaster at Spaceco, the commercial space flight company where her husband, Liam, works. The explosion kills two crew members and four passengers. Is Liam implicated in a systems-failure coverup? And what about the future of Spaceco now that tycoon Robert Kahn is suing the company for the death of his daughter, one of the passengers, who was pregnant and shouldn’t have been on board? Then there's the ethical issue of charging $250,000 for a flight into space to enable thrill-seeking members of the 1 percent to play astronaut for a day. Jess, meanwhile, works with endangered plants while Arthur is in Manitoba, Canada, researching global warming’s effect on at-risk subarctic ecosystems. This somewhat heavy-handed mix of politics, morality and personal relationships becomes even more complicated when journalists camp out at Jess’ house and a filmmaker arrives with an offer that might save Spaceco’s finances if he’s allowed to make a documentary about the events, including a space flight with Jess on board. Jess’ emails give voice to a smart, sardonic, abrasive, not especially likable character, but it's hard to get involved in her emotional dilemmas, perhaps because of the hobbling narrative device. Even the story’s implosive conclusion has a low impact.
An intelligent new voice in fiction yet not an especially persuasive one.