An unlikely affair has lasting consequences for two people seeking certainty in the chaotic America of the Vietnam War era.
Repulsed by her parents’ privileged lifestyle and moralistic condemnation of her lesbian sister, 19-year-old Fay comes to work in 1957 at Charlie’s bar in the Mojave Desert, where Vincent Kahn is one of the pilots testing the new X-15 at Edwards Air Force Base. He’s married; their backgrounds, interests, and convictions are decidedly different; yet the relationship endures for two and a half years. Alcott (Infinite Home, 2015, etc.) portrays in evocative snapshots an inner core of solitude and fiercely individual rectitude in each that binds the lovers yet precludes a lasting relationship. Vincent decides to make a break and join the space program, unaware that he is leaving Fay pregnant. Their divergent paths through the 1960s take Fay to Ecuador with son Wright in tow, Vincent to Houston and the Apollo spacecraft. He becomes the first man to step onto the moon shortly before she returns with a Vietnam veteran–turned–militant anti-war activist to the States, there to engage in a series of increasingly lunatic protest gestures. Fay’s commitment would be more comprehensible if it weren’t depicted primarily through her young son’s bewildered eyes; the author seems more intuitively understanding of Vincent’s profound lack of conviction, a bone-deep need for solitude assuaged only on the moon and in the high desert. The book’s final third, centered on Wright’s adult life in 1980s San Francisco, suggests that Alcott aims to synthesize three personal odysseys into a larger statement—but what that might be is obscured by her elliptical narrative development. Nonetheless, her empathy for troubled souls, rendered in haunting, impressionistic prose, makes a powerful emotional impact, giving the novel a staying power beyond that of more neatly finished fiction.
Uneven and at times frustratingly enigmatic but impressively ambitious and extremely well-written.