Sunday, May 12, 2013

The astronaut who couldn't grieve


Christian Kiefer teaches English at American River College in Sacramento and lives with his wife and five sons northeast of the city. In his acclaimed novel, "The Infinite Tides" ($17 in paperback from Bloomsbury USA; also available in Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook e-book formats) he imagines a contemporary astronaut whose life becomes an emotional cul-de-sac, a dead end.

Keith Corcoran is a mathematician in his work aboard the International Space Station. For him, "all things reduced to numbers, angles, vectors, equations." But then, aboard the ISS, he gets the news. His teenage daughter, Quinn, has been killed in an automobile accident. His wife, Barb, is leaving him.

Kiefer is scheduled to sign copies of his novel at Lyon Books in Chico this Thursday, May 16, at 7:00 p.m.

With weather delays and his own intransigence, it takes Corcoran months to get back to his suburban home. He desperately wanted to dive back into the numbers but now the migraines had begun and he had been told to go home and rest, his career as an astronaut on hold. "The whole of his thoughts had come to reflect a reality he did not want to acknowledge, a reality wherein he might shatter all at once into the brittle unannealed shards of a grief he had managed so effectively to avoid."

His house, sitting empty on a cul-de-sac, is a stark image of his life. "There was no equation for any of it. Not for he universe, not for his loss, not for the decisions he had made. ..." Then he meets Peter Kovalenko, a Ukrainian immigrant who had become his neighbor. One night he helps Keith drag an old couch into the field near the cul-de-sac so the two can sit and look through Peter's telescope and drink beer and smoke pot, "stoned and drunk and laughing in that bleak darkness under a million wheeling stars."

At some point "he realized that perhaps for the first time in his life he had grown to value human companionship and that the overarching feeling that had come to dominate his endless days and nights in the cul-de-sac was loneliness." Here are the seeds of a different kind of life told in a language that captures the human equation.

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