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A first novel about a NASA astronaut with marital troubles that might be called ""The Usual Stuff,"" except that from time to time Jack Healy, the novel's confused, flat-footed narrator, makes a rapturous reference or two to ""beautiful islands"" that are the stars seen close. Healy has just returned from his first space flight on the shuttle Discovery when, earthbound again, he's forced to confront the fact that his marriage is over, (He can tell because his wife has moved from Houston to Austin and is now living in a new house with a Jag-owning reporter from Texas Monthly.) Our man, finding his empty ex-domestic haven in Houston unpleasant, takes a few weeks off from charting space to make a different journey: to visit Colorado and his long-suffering parents and schizophrenic younger brother Michael, who believes Healy has been controlling his mind from orbit. In Colorado, Healy ducks his filial responsibilities in order to have an affair with a one-handed, wise old schoolmate named Jane, with whom he hikes through the woods, gazes at cows, and contemplates the nature of mature love (which seems to mean not minding that Jane disdains a prosthesis and wears a stump). Soon enough, brother Michael commits suicide by hanging himself in the nave of a Denver church run by a friend of Healy's father, who is an Episcopal priest; it seems that Michael was tormented by sex, just as Healy is. But then Healy is called to Cape Canaveral to make a speech at the launching of the shuttle Challenger, which blows up in a scene awfully reminiscent of the Evening News with Dan Rather, and suddenly Michael's death takes on some meaning: Nothing is sure in this world, and so lives are like ""beautiful islands"" in ""a sea of matter and energy and grace."" Yawn. Snooze. Sleep.

Pub Date: April 29th, 1988
Publisher: Simon & Schuster