In Kiefer’s debut literary novel, astronaut Keith Corcoran returns from the International Space Station to a house populated by a bare mattress, random canned goods and a gray leather sofa.
The astronaut’s beloved and gifted daughter is dead after a car accident, and his wife has left him, all while he spent months aboard the ISS. In a house in an economy-stalled suburb, Corcoran contemplates his world, and he is haunted by his near-metaphysical, unquantifiable experience in space. Corcoran’s life has always been measured by the fluidity of equations (he’s a math genius), which he believes can explain nearly everything. Now the numbers no longer add up. Empathetically drawn by Kiefer, Corcoran is a splendid protagonist, isolated from his lifelong ambition to be an astronaut by grief and migraines. “Everything in his life had telescoped into guilt and bereavement and a kind of emptiness he still did not entirely understand.” Kiefer also develops an imaginative and intriguing cast of characters: Barb, Corcoran’s wife, who initially supported the ambitious and driven man she married; Quinn, Corcoran’s daughter, the first in his world who also saw numbers as colors, as having emotions and characters; and Jennifer, the neighbor with whom he has a brief and unsatisfying affair. Most compelling are Peter and Luda, Ukrainian immigrants lost in America’s consumer culture. Peter grieves for his former profession as an astronomy technician, and Luda, quiet and beautiful, displays a moral intelligence that may right Corcoran’s world. Kiefer’s work is deeply symbolic, with Corcoran’s appreciation for the order and perfection to be found in equations and algorithms being contrasted against the chaos and entropy of his personal life. The narrative is straightforward and masterfully accomplished.
A wonderfully executed debut novel, so rich as to inspire rereading, right down to its inevitable resolution, both ironic and existentialist.