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Oh Pure and Radiant Heartby Lydia Millet
Synopses & Reviews
Acclaimed author Lydia Millet's latest novel is a black-comic tour de force depicting atomic bomb creators Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and Leo Szilard. Despite being dead, these scientists are spotted in Santa Fe by a shy librarian named Ann. She becomes convinced they are real and, to the dismay of her husband, devotes herself to them. The trio quickly acquire a sugar daddy — a young pothead millionaire from Tokyo — and a vast cult following of hippies, Christians, New Agers, bikers, A-bomb survivors, and curious anthropologists who join them on an RV pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. Heroes to some, lunatics or con artists to others, the scientists finally become messianic religious figureheads to fanatics who believe Oppenheimer is the Second Coming.
This imaginative novel, rich with incident, brilliantly marries their journey to a history of atomic and thermonuclear weapons and to the emotionally intimate tale of a middle-class couple trying to stay hopeful about the future as they grow close to the men who gave birth to the nuclear threat.
"What if Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard, the primary physicists from the Manhattan Project, returned to contemporary America to survey their atomic legacy? That question forms the heart of Millet's excellent fourth novel, in which the souls of the three take earthly form in the present-day Southwest. Ann, a New Mexico librarian, spots the reincarnated Oppenheimer and Fermi at a restaurant near her home; Szilard soon joins them; Ann persuades her garden-designer husband, Ben, to take them all in. Subsequent trips to Los Alamos and (with the help of a rich UFOlogist) Japan to view the monuments at Hiroshima persuade the three to work for disarmament. Army surveillance ensues; at one rally, shots are fired; and Christian Fundamentalists try to take things in a more rapturous direction. It takes considerable talent to pull off a conceit like this, and for the most part Millet makes it look easy, drawing full-blown, dead-on portraits of the three scientists that don't diminish their characters or their work. Her threads on weapons buildup, the topsy-turvy mosaic of contemporary American political culture and the difficulties of marriage feel realistically motivated and nicely argued. Millet gives a whimsical conceit real depth, and the result, if a bit pious in spots, is a superb, memorable novel. (July)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A Molotov cocktail comprised of dreams, history, philosophy and wit, Lydia Millet's new novel, Oh Pure and Radiant Heart, explodes the rationale for nuclear armament along with any claims of its rationality." Portland Oregonian
"Extremely smart....It's a wonder the novel itself doesn't explode, but Millet's confident writing holds the center." New York Times
"For all its frenetic energy and fiery satire, Oh Pure and Radiant Heart...is an acutely sensitive novel, a work of many moods and modes, a richly dimensional, shrewd and humanistic tale in the manner of Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut and Haruki Murakami." Chicago Tribune
"Possesses the nervy irreverence of Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller... Can only be described as, well, genius." Vanity Fair
"Brilliant and fearless...a shattering and beautiful work." Entertainment Weekly
"Compassionate satire...a terrific premise and writing so assured that readers should be lining up for admission to this dystopia." Christian Science Monitor
"An entirely original novel: equal parts funny and chilling, accurate and bizarre." Philadelphia Weekly
"Though Oh Pure and Radiant Heart possesses the nervy irreverence of Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller, Millet makes the subject matter her own, capturing the essence of these geniuses in a way that can only be described as, well, genius."—Vanity Fair
Nearly sixty years after they watched historys first mushroom cloud rise over the desert in 1945, scientists Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard, and Enrico Fermi mysteriously appear in Sante Fe, New Mexico. Faced with the evidence of their nuclear legacy, they embark on a global disarmament campaign. Along the way, they acquire a billionaire pothead benefactor and a growing convoy of RVs carrying groupies, activists, Deadheads, New Age freeloaders, and religious fanatics.
In this heroically mischievous, sweeping tour de force, Lydia Millet brings us an apocalyptic fable that evokes both the beauty and the tragedy of the nuclear sublime.
"Part farce, part comedy of errors, part spiritual inquiry, part historical testimony, part love story. . . a richly dimensional, shrewd and humanistic tale."—Chicago Tribune
"Complex and affecting . . . while its premise seems absurd at first, its message is anything but."—Washington Post Book World
"Oh Pure and Radiant Heart provides catharsis and education while allowing us to bask in the humorous, poignant possibilities of what if."—The Believer
LYDIA MILLET is the author of several previous novels, including Everyone's Pretty and My Happy Life, which won the PEN Center USA Award for Fiction. She lives in the desert outside Tucson, Arizona.
Oppenheimer's first full day at the motel was devoted to television. He located the remote on the bedside table, where it sat beside the enigmatic telephone with its sheet of intricate numeric instructions, and eventually by pressing the button marked power discovered its function. -from OH PURE AND RADIANT HEART
In Oh Pure and Radiant Heart, the three dead geniuses who invented the atomic bomb-Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard, and Enrico Fermi-mysteriously appear in Sante Fe, New Mexico, in 2003, nearly sixty years after they watched history's first mushroom cloud rise over the New Mexico desert in 1945. One by one, they are discovered by a shy librarian, who takes them in and devotes herself to them.
Faced with the evidence of their nuclear legacy, the scientists embark on a global disarmament campaign that takes them from Hiroshima to Nevada to the United Nations. Along the way, they acquire a billionaire pothead benefactor and a growing convoy of RVs carrying groupies, drifters, activists, former Deadheads, New Age freeloaders, and religious fanatics.
In this heroically mischievous, sweeping tour de force, Lydia Millet brings us an apocalyptic fable that marries the personal to the political, confronts the longing for immortality with the desire for redemption, and evokes both the beauty and the tragedy of the nuclear sublime.
About the Author
Lydia Muillet is the author of several previous novels, including Everyone's Pretty and My Happy Life, which won the 2003 PEN Center USA Award for Fiction. She lives in the desert outside Tucson, Arizona.
Table of Contents
THE MEANING OF THE PORKPIE HAT
WHY TALL PEOPLE FEAR DWARVES
THE DEAD MAINTAIN THEIR GOOD LOOKS
A VAST INFANT
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