Synopses & Reviews
This provocative, rollicking story is the much-anticipated new novel-the first in over a decade-from acclaimed author Bobbie Ann Mason. In An Atomic Romance
we meet Reed Futrell, a sexy, thoughtful hero who grapples with radioactive contamination, a midlife crisis, and string theory-all while falling in love.
Reed is an engineer at a uranium-enrichment plant near a riverside city in heartland America. He has deep roots in this community: He was raised there; his father worked at the very same plant before him. And it was here that Reed met, married, and then divorced his wife. Reed spends countless nights camping at a local wildlife preserve, gazing at the stars, fishing and hunting-that is, until deformed frogs are discovered at the site. Though his father was killed in a tragic accident at the atomic plant years ago, Reed stays on, proud to perform demanding and dangerous work for the benefit of the nation. As for the radioactive “incidents” he has endured, Reed prefers to think about other things-Hubble photographs of distant galaxies, Albert Einstein, his dog.
Reeds casual attitude toward danger infuriates his on-again-off-again girlfriend, Julia, as much as his quirky mind and muscular body intrigue her. Julia, a biologist, is truly Reeds match-or maybe more than his match. They both are witty, curious, and fascinated by science. Indeed, their courtship began with banter about Stephen Hawkings theories of space-time, and ever since it has been an up-and-down adventure of sexual attraction, intellectual game-playing, and long silences when Julia refuses to return Reeds calls.
When news reports reveal evidence of radioactive pollution in the land surrounding the plant, Reed and Julias relationship faces an unprecedented challenge. In An Atomic Romance, Bobbie Ann Mason delivers a brilliant novel set against a backdrop of atomic power: a love story between a motorcycle-riding loner and an independent, strong-minded biologist; between the peaceful present in a typical American community and the nations violent nuclear past; and, finally, between a good man and the work he takes pride in, though it may be putting his life in danger.
From the Hardcover edition.
Bestselling author Mason's first novel in over a decade is a profound, funny, and rollicking love story with an eccentric hero and a scientific/nuclear background.
About the Author
Bobbie Ann Mason is the author of In Country, Clear Springs, and Shiloh & Other Stories. She is the winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the American Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award, and the Pulitzer Prize. She is writer-in-residence at the University of Kentucky, and lives with her husband, Roger Rawlings.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
1. Why are Julia and Reed attracted to each other? What accounts
for their “romance”? Do you sympathize with Julia or Reed in the
breakup? Do you think Reed is being reasonable?
2. Consider the role of science in the novel and in the romance.
Why are Reed and Julia so interested in such uncommon topics as
quarks and the genome project and black holes? What questions ultimately
lie beneath Reed and Julias flirtation with quantum theory
and string theory?
3. Why does Reed keep working at such a dangerous job? Can you
explain his loyalty? How does his attitude toward his work evolve?
How serious are the dangers of radioactive contamination? How
does he deal—or not deal—with his potentially lethal exposures to
plutonium? How serious is the problem of nuclear waste for the
4. Reed dreams about a woman killing herself in the wildlife refuge,
a “private screening of a horror film” (10) in his mind. How do you
interpret the meaning of this dream, and why is Reed haunted by it?
How does Reeds dream connect to all the other dreaming in the
novel? Consider also the epigraph, and Reeds favorite poem,
Samuel Taylor Coleridges “Kubla Khan,” a poem that arose from a
dream. Why do you think there are so many dreams in this novel?
5. The novel begins as if Reed is watching a movie when he rides
into the wildlife refuge. How does this point of view—and the passive
way we watch movies—arise from Reeds character and situation?
Can you find other references in the novel to the ways in
which movies influence our way of seeing?
6. There are numerous insects in this book, including the oversized
praying mantis. Why are these insects flying around in this story?
Look for other clusters of images, such as birds, clouds, colors, and
discuss why they might be significant.
7. How does Reed feel about his mother? What is her role in our
understanding of the atomic legacy passed down to Reed? Why
does she like to pretend?
8. Reed has a special fascination with images from the Hubble telescope.
Trace the sequence of Reeds sessions at the computer with
his astronomical pictures. Why does he move from the stars to the
planets? What are the transuranics?
9. Why does Reed think his buddy Burl is wise or even “holy”?
What does Burl mean by serving as Reeds “Prayer Warrior”?
10. Julia is a person whos out for a second chance, a mother who
starts a career after her daughters are grown. How realistic are her
ambitions? Does Julia know herself? Can Reed share and support
11. What is the role of the mysterious Celtic Warrior Reed encounters
in the wildlife refuge?
12. After Julia leaves for Chicago, Reed finds himself in a series of
situations that carry him along until he can make a decision. What
do these scenes—the ride with Burl into the country, the farewell
trip to the wildlife refuge, the meeting with his Internet pen pal, and
the church pageant with Burl—contribute to Reeds state of mind
and the progress of his romance with Julia?
13. Does the novel have a happy ending?