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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.)
"[C]haracteristically poetic....Lively, provocative fiction, graced by good writing and a refreshingly offbeat worldview." Kirkus Reviews
"[B]oldly fuses lyrical realism with precisely rendered far-outness to achieve a unique energy and perspicacity....Millet's brilliant, madcap, poetic, fact-spiked, and penetrating novel (think Twain, Vonnegut, Murakami, and DeLillo) illuminates the personal dimension of our most daunting dilemma." Booklist (Starred Review)
"Oh Pure and Radiant Heart may be [Millett's] biggest gamble yet; it also promises to have the largest payoff because, while its premise seems absurd at first, its message is anything but." The Washington Post
"[Millett's] most questing and provocative work to date....For all its frenetic energy and fiery satire...[it] 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
"The scientists want to stop nuclear proliferation, but it's the proliferation of stereotypes — relentlessly chipper New Agers, soulless Wall Street executives, militant evangelicals — that sabotages the author's attempt at lyrical transcendence." The New Yorker
"Oh Pure and Radiant Heart warns us to wake up, pay attention and care. But it delivers its message with humor, of the dark variety....When the novel shifts from being based in locales, and goes on the road, it loses some of its charm and meditative quality." Kansas City Star
A masterfully crafted literary and philosophical tour-de-force that moves from the poetic to the hilarious to the dreamily apocalyptic, this novel from the 2003 PEN-USA Award winner imagines the small foibles and grand moral negotiations of the "genius" A-bomb scientists.
Millet's latest novel is a black-comic tour de force depicting the "second coming" of atomic bomb creators Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and Leo Szilard. Despite being dead, these scientists are spotted in Santa Fe by a shy librarian, who joins them on a pilgrimage to Washington, D.C.
Oh Pure and Radiant Heart plucks the three scientists who were key to the invention of the atom bomb—Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard and Enrico Fermi—as they watch history's first mushroom cloud rise over the desert on July 16th, 1945...and places them down in modern-day Santa Fe. One by one, the scientists are spotted by a shy librarian who becomes convinced of their authenticity. Entranced, bewildered, overwhelmed by their significance as historical markers on the one hand, and their peculiar personalities on the other, she, to the dismay of her husband, devotes herself to them. Soon the scientists acquire a sugar daddy—a young pothead millionaire from Tokyo who bankrolls them. Heroes to some, lunatics or con artists to others, the scientists finally become messianic religious figureheads to fanatics, who believe Oppenheimer to be the Second Coming. As the ever-growing convoy traverses the country in a fleet of RV's on a pilgrimage to the UN, the scientists wrestle with the legacy of their invention and their growing celebrity, while Ann and her husband struggle with the strain on their marriage, a personal journey married to a history of thermonuclear weapons.
About the Author
Born in Boston in 1968, Lydia Millet moved to Toronto, Canada, with her Egyptologist father and teacher/librarian mother two years later. She received a Master's in Environmental Policy at Duke University and moved to New York in 1996, where she worked as a fundraiser for the Natural Resources Defense Council; then went freelance and moved to Tucson, where she now lives and writes full-time on an isolated spread in the desert, in 1999. She is the author of Omnivores, George Bush, Dark Prince of Love, My Happy Life, a winner of the 2003 PEN-USA Award for Fiction, and Everyone's Pretty.
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