The main character of THE INFINITE TIDES by Christian Kiefer is an astronaut and engineer who attains his life's goal when he boards the International Space Station, where he will install and test a component that he designed. But during Keith's months-long mission, a tragedy strikes his family back home. When he is finally able to return to Earth, he's confronted with an empty shell of his old life. Keith longs to be back in orbit, where he was fully occupied with his work and the happiest he'd ever been. Instead he's aimless for the first time, and what's left of his life keeps unraveling further.
As you might expect, this is a fairly depressing story overall, but it's full of moments that are amusing and even hilarious. Keith isn't great at interacting with people and would prefer to stay out of everyone else's way, but he meets several neighbors who drag him into their own complicated lives. The characters are all well developed and fascinating, especially Keith. I really felt for him as he struggles with grief and anger and a desire to lose himself again in his love of numbers, the only things that make sense.
This is a character-focused novel in which not a lot happens, but that's by design. Christian Kiefer was one of the staff members at the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, where I had the opportunity to meet him and hear him talk about his book. He described it this way (paraphrased from my notes): "It's about a man living in a cul de sac, and almost the whole book takes place in his empty house in an unfinished neighborhood, or in Starbucks. Previously he was orbiting Earth, going in circles. Every day is the same, like in the movie Groundhog Day. He doesn't know what to do with himself every day. But other things are poking in, more and more as the story goes along, and by the end he is longing for the days when he had nothing to do."
THE INFINITE TIDES shares several elements with SHINE SHINE SHINE by Lydia Netzer, which I raved about last year, though the two are very different in tone. I asked Kiefer if he'd read Netzer's novel, and he said the two of them had become friends and critique partners because of their books. I love the idea of two novelists I admire looking over each other's work. THE INFINITE TIDES is another strong recommendation, and Kiefer is another writer I can't wait to read more from.
Good Stuff Out There:
→ Juliette Wade examines how to weigh the quality of feedback based on different reader reactions: "I don't know about everyone, but I am most likely to take advice when it comes from someone who obviously understands what I'm trying to do. A person who 'gets it' is the one who can sense the vision of what I'm trying to achieve -- and their vision matches pretty well with mine. In this case I'm going to be very careful before I reject anything they say, because they and I are working toward the same goal."