A first novel from Greer (stories: How It Was For Me, 2000) that’s both as sweeping and as slow as the comet that helps form its structure.
The perihelions and aphelions of comet 1953 Two give shape to this 30-plus-year epic about a group of scientists and scientists’ spouses touched by its celestial comings and goings. The action begins at a 1965 comet-watching party. Swift, the comet’s discoverer, has invited his pals and students to the small Pacific island where he first spotted the thing, but when a young boy falls to his death just as the meteor shower begins, everyone remembers that back in days of old, comets brought bad tidings to humankind. This dire event introduces repeat visits to a number of quirky lives at the intervals of the comet’s six-year nearest and most distant points—two young astronomers who marry other people when they should have married each other; Swift himself, lonely in his fame; Swift’s daughter, who grows up haunted by the memory of the dead boy; and Manday, the island astronomer who wants half the credit for the discovery of 1953 Two. Greer successfully captures the spirits of both men and women here, and manages to hold a great deal together without slipping. He can turn a phrase; the problem may be that he turns so many. No one here is as important as the omniscient narrator, who sometimes reveals things about the comet that no human will ever know, and who pulls the strings of his puppets’ sensibilities so relentlessly that they begin to sound alike, and familiar. Quotidian moments are accorded as much grandeur as the end of this ambitious fable, pumped up by endless wordplay reminiscent of young girls who put on makeup even when they’re alone.
A strong vision so consistently gorgeous it’s sometimes tedious.