2003 LA Times Book Of The Year
Synopses & Reviews
This poetic novel, by the acclaimed author of John Dollar, describes America at the brink of the Atomic Age. In the years between the two world wars, the future held more promise than peril, but there was evidence of things unseen that would transfigure our unquestioned trust in a safe future. andlt;BRandgt; Fos has returned to Tennessee from the trenches of France. Intrigued with electricity, bioluminescence, and especially x-rays, he believes in science and the future of technology. On a trip to the Outer Banks to study the Perseid meteor shower, he falls in love with Opal, whose father is a glassblower who can spin color out of light. andlt;BRandgt; Fos brings his new wife back to Knoxville where he runs a photography studio with his former Army buddy Flash. A witty rogue and a staunch disbeliever in Prohibition, Flash brings tragedy to the couple when his appetite for pleasure runs up against both the law and the Ku Klux Klan. Fos and Opal are forced to move to Opal's mother's farm on the Clinch River, and soon they have a son, Lightfoot. But when the New Deal claims their farm for the TVA, Fos seeks work at the Oak Ridge Laboratory -- Site X in the government's race to build the bomb. andlt;BRandgt; And it is there, when Opal falls ill with radiation poisoning, that Fos's great faith in science deserts him. Their lives have traveled with touching inevitability from their innocence and fascination with "things that glow" to the new world of manmade suns. andlt;BRandgt; Hypnotic and powerful, andlt;Iandgt;Evidence of Things Unseenandlt;/Iandgt; constructs a heartbreaking arc through twentieth-century American life and belief.
The Great War has been won, and surely human history will never again experience an event of such enormity and devastation. This is what Fos, the protagonist of "Evidence of Things Unseen, and his fellow soldiers believe as they make their way home from the trenches of France. Fos, a chemist intrigued by bioluminescence and x-rays, returns to America and falls in love with Opal, the daughter of a glassblower on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Fos wows the audiences of small country fairs with his amazing new x-ray machine. After their farm on the Clinch River is claimed by the government. Fos gets a job at the central site of the government's race to build the atomic bomb. But when the bomb is dropped over Hiroshima and Opal falls ill with radiation poisoning. Fos finds that his great faith in science, and humanity, has deserted him. In "Evidence of Things Unseen Wiggins' writing is at its most powerful and hypnotic and the lives of her characters beautifully follow the arc of twentieth century American life and belief.
"Wiggins fits her lyrical prose to a distinctly rural, Southern cadence, easily blending the vernacular with luminous imagery, adding bits of poetry, passages explaining scientific phenomena, interpolations about the Scopes trial and even references to "Moby-Dick," which serves as a leitmotif."--"Publisher's Weekly."
A beautiful story of an American couple and their adopted son, and how a very innocent knowledge and fascination of 'things that glow' leads to a loss of faith and their lives being ripped apart as the Hiroshima bomb is dropped.
About the Author
andlt;Bandgt;Marianne Wigginsandlt;/Bandgt; is the author of seven books of fiction including andlt;Iandgt;John Dollarandlt;/Iandgt; and andlt;Iandgt;Evidence of Things Unseen.andlt;/Iandgt; She has won an NEA grant, the Whiting Writers' Award, and the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, and she was a National Book Award finalist in fiction for andlt;Iandgt;Evidence of Things Unseen.andlt;/Iandgt;
Reading Group Guide
Reading group guide for Marianne Wiggins' Evidence of Things Unseen
1. To what does the title refer? Does it have more than one meaning? From what source did Wiggins choose it?
2. Look at the McPhee quote at the beginning of the book. What is "The Curve of Binding Energy"? How does it figure in the story? Why does Wiggins use this to title three chapters?
3. Discuss "White Sands." What connection does it have to the characters and the story as a whole?
4. Talk about the character names. What do they reveal to you about the characters?
5. Recount Fos' "chance of a lifetime." (page 11) Thinking about the entire book, what is the relevance of the story on page 10 about the Curies and Becquerel and liquid radium? Why does the author include it at this point, so early on, in the book? Trace the life of Fos' x-ray machine and what he does with it.
6. What is your response to Wiggins' description of Opal and her glassblower father on pages 24 and 25? How does Opal first appear to Fos, and how is this scene significant?
7. How does Wiggins use Melville's Moby-Dick? Explore whether or not you need to be familiar with the story of Moby-Dick to understand Evidence of Things Unseen, and why. How do whales resonate throughout the story? Why does Opal's land-locked cousin make whales out of wood? Why is Lightfoot so attracted to them? Why is Flash so enamored of Melville's work?
8. Consider what Fos means when he says, "Family is a secret....That's what family is. A secret. From the world." Is there foreshadowing here, or illumination of the past? Why? What happens to Opal, Fos and Lightfoot? Discuss your reaction to Lightfoot's predicament at age nine.
9. Share how you responded when Lightfoot meets Flash. What does Flash mean when he says, "There are people for whom the past is important..."? (page 346) What kind of person are you?
10. Why is it so important for Lightfoot to find out about his past? What is your response when Flash tells Lightfoot, "The past doesn't hold the answers for you about who you are -- the future does"? (page 360) Do you agree? Why?
11. Why do Flash and Lightfoot set out together across the country? What does it mean that "Lightfoot became more like Ahab on the bridge of the Pequod than he had ever been, steering only for the course in the direction of the thing he couldn't see"? (Page 352) Do you agree that Flash should not tell Lightfoot about his parentage? Why?
12. What does Ramona mean when she says "there are hundreds of stories out there...thousands. I can't turn the whole ocean into a sad story just for me." (Page 377) Why is this important for Lightfoot to hear? Why does Lightfoot go to White Sands? What, if anything, does this have to do with the opening section "White Sands"? What happens to him there?
13. Discuss the box that Opal was clutching when she died. Why is it called "The Box of Clues"? What is in it? What is the significance of these items? What do they mean to Lightfoot? To Opal?