The flickering relationship between a dedicated cytotechnologist and a free-spirited uranium plant maintenance engineer more or less energizes Mason’s rambling fourth novel.
He’s Reed Futrell, long-divorced father of grown children he never sees, who has a restless itch for the outdoors. She’s Julia Jensen, likewise spouseless, perpetually seeking potential cures for numerous infectious diseases. And she has “no kind words for nuclear energy,” which is an issue, because Reed works at the Cascade Uranium Enrichment Plant, where material for nuclear power plants is produced. In the plant’s vicinity—Mason doesn’t specify the name of the town in which the book is set—evidence of deadly environmental contamination is mounting, and Reed’s refusal to worry about it drives Julia nuts. The author has mastered all the relevant technical stuff, but after heading for a while toward focusing on the titular romance, her novel meanders. Julia heads to Chicago for an extended family visit and disappears from the narrative for a distractingly long time, leaving Reed to carry the book. Fortunately, he’s fine company: a goodhearted sensualist with a high-school whiz’s passion for science, especially astronomy. Reed loves his ebullient dog, Clarence, his spacey best friend, Burl (who “embraced life to such an extent that he was pulled in many directions”) and his aging mother, Margaret, a feisty stroke victim yearning for liberation from hospitals and the nursing home. His zest for life is enormously appealing, even when it requires ignoring his father’s horrible work-related death years earlier and his own disturbingly high radiation-level readings. It’s almost appealing enough to compensate for the fact that Mason, lacking sufficient plot for a novel, clogs the narrative with repetition. The soggy romantic “movie ending” is something we’d expect both Julia and Reed to ridicule unmercifully.
Good characters, but not enough for them to do.