Sea of Tranquility

Overview

Paul Russell's delicately layered, richly textured novels have won him widespread acclaim as one of the finest contemporary American novelists. Sea of Tranquillity, possibly his most ambitious and rewarding novel, traces a disintegrating nuclear family across two tumultuous decades of American life - from the early '60s to the '80s - and is told in a quartet of voices: astronaut Allen Cloud, his wife, their gay son, Jonathan, and his friend/lover. Ranging in time and emotion from the optimism of the first moon ...
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Overview

Paul Russell's delicately layered, richly textured novels have won him widespread acclaim as one of the finest contemporary American novelists. Sea of Tranquillity, possibly his most ambitious and rewarding novel, traces a disintegrating nuclear family across two tumultuous decades of American life - from the early '60s to the '80s - and is told in a quartet of voices: astronaut Allen Cloud, his wife, their gay son, Jonathan, and his friend/lover. Ranging in time and emotion from the optimism of the first moon shot to the dark landscape of the age of AIDS, Sea of Tranquillity is an extraordinary and compelling novel.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Russell's third novel (after Boys of Life), a transplanetary sexual fantasia that chronicles the life of an astronaut's family in the age of AIDS, is so humongous in its attempted scope that it succeeds at a lot of things, among them confounding the reader. Told by four different characters in alternating sections, the book charts the lives of numerous people in such varied locations as Florida, Turkey, Africa, Washington, D.C., and the moon. There are characters who succeed entirely, like Allen Cloud, repressed astronaut, who goes into mental orbit when he discovers that his son, Jonathan, is dying of AIDS, and whose story is well realized through tight, realist writing. Yet the novel suffers from a plethora of imagery and a glut of metaphor: a grove of sycamores that die by the saw; the moon; various seas of tranquillity. The book's center, depicting Jonathan's sexual exploits and illness, is clouded by long-winded surrealist riffs and disjointed meditations on outer space. The fascinated speculation particular to Russell's writing works best when it's hitched to real-life objects-like Cloud's rocket-and not left free-floating in space. We are left dazed and tingly at the end, as if we had just witnessed an abortive moon mission. (Sept.)
Library Journal
In 1970, astronaut Allen Cloud is about to begin training for an Apollo moon mission when his personal life crumbles. He separates from his wife, Joan, and discovers that his mercurial son Jonathan is gay. Joan and Jonathan depart Houston for Tennessee, where Jonathan meets Stayton Voegli, a shy preacher's son who becomes his lover. Events then shift to 1990 when Allen's life has soured as a result of a bad business deal and Jonathan is dying of AIDS. This far-from-tranquil tale of voyages-both geographical and emotional-weaves together the alternating voices of its four main characters. Though Russell sometimes seems unsure whether it is Allen's or Jonathan's story he is trying to tell, he presents a compelling chronicle of the fracturing of an American family. For general collections.-Lawrence Rungren, Bedford Free P.L., Mass.
Donna Seaman
Russell's original and compellingly complex novels, especially "Boys of Life" , are unprecedented in their authentic portrayal of the gay male experience, but Russell's keen sense of emotional truth extends to all kinds of characters. Here he dramatizes the failed connections between family members in an astronaut's household. The novel begins in Houston in 1970 as Allen Cloud is preparing for his flight to the moon and his wife is readying herself for her flight to freedom. Allen's mind is always in the heavens, and Joan is tired of coping with their teenage son's homosexuality and her drinking problem in secret. Russell expertly switches points of view as he conveys the intensity of each character's search for fulfillment. Allen is an amazing creation, and Russell's depiction of his less-than-perfect moon landing and the profound postlunar depression that follows are brilliantly unsettling. These disorienting episodes play in effective counterpoint to Jonathan's fearless pursuit of erotic homosexual adventure. Slender and androgynous, Jonathan is intent on pleasure at any cost, an exuberant and lusty lifestyle that, 20 years later, leads to AIDS and a redefinition of love. Russell leaves us contemplating the paradox of how some endeavors, even an event as radical as walking on the moon, seem to evaporate with hardly a trace, while others, far more natural and spontaneous, prove fatal.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780525938958
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/1/1994
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 9.43 (w) x 6.23 (h) x 1.36 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Russell is the author of five novels - including The Coming Storm - as well as The Gay 100, a work of non-fiction. His most recent novel was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award as well as the winner of the Ferro-Grumley Award. He is a professor at Vassar College and lives in upstate New York.
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