Blazing a trajectory across more than two decades of American life, from the sky-high optimism of the first moon shots to the dark human landscape of the age of AIDS, Sea of Tranquillity tells the story of a splintering nuclear family. A father, a mother, a son, their intimates, and their lovers are all brought to life with immediacy and insight, honesty and compassion. The head of the family is Allen Cloud, a handsome, brave, dedicated NASA astronaut, a hero fit for the cover of Life, but a man whose private ...
Blazing a trajectory across more than two decades of American life, from the sky-high optimism of the first moon shots to the dark human landscape of the age of AIDS, Sea of Tranquillity tells the story of a splintering nuclear family. A father, a mother, a son, their intimates, and their lovers are all brought to life with immediacy and insight, honesty and compassion. The head of the family is Allen Cloud, a handsome, brave, dedicated NASA astronaut, a hero fit for the cover of Life, but a man whose private life is in cruel contrast with his public image. For Allen is far more at home walking on the moon than in the world of human relationships. Tormented by his wife's desperate need and raging drunkenness, and by his son's obvious homosexuality, Allen must come to terms with the desertion of one, and the demand for recognition of the other. He tries to build a new life with an all-American dream girl who has survived one nightmare and now, with Allen, finds herself facing another. Allen's story interweaves with that of his wife, Joan, whose search for happiness takes her from the bottom of the bottle in middle America to a mountainside in Turkey where she finds spiritual salvation. Looming even larger in the lives of both father and mother is their son, Jonathan, whose own journey of self-discovery leads him from the suburban astronaut community in Houston to the sophisticated gay world of the East Coast. His fearless acknowledgment of his sexual identity and avid pursuit of physical and spiritual fulfillment has its counterpoint in a shy and repressed preacher's son, Stayton Voegli, whose desires Jonathan awakens in high school and whose destiny Jonathan permanently alters, for better or for worse. Sea of Tranquillity is told by a brilliant quartet of voices that move with grace from life to life and love to love over time and space. The spectrum of emotion that sweeps from razor-sharp wit to wrenching heartache, from anger and alienation to acceptance and
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.)
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.