South Pole Station: A Novel

South Pole Station: A Novel

by Ashley Shelby

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Overview

Winner of the Lascaux Prize in Fiction

One of The Millions' Most Anticipated Books of the Year A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice • Named a Best Book of the Year by Shelf Awareness and One of the Best Environmental Fiction Books of the Year by Earther

A warmhearted comedy of errors set in the world’s harshest place, Ashley Shelby's South Pole Station is a wry and witty debut novel about the courage it takes to band together when everything around you falls apart.

Do you have digestion problems due to stress? Do you have problems with authority? How many alcoholic drinks to you consume a week? Would you rather be a florist or a truck driver?

These are some of the questions that determine if you have what it takes to survive at South Pole Station, a place with an average temperature of -54°F and no sunlight for six months a year. Cooper Gosling has just answered five hundred of them. Her results indicate she is abnormal enough for Polar life.

Cooper’s not sure if this is an achievement, but she knows she has nothing to lose. Unmoored by a recent family tragedy, she’s adrift at thirty and—despite her early promise as a painter—on the verge of sinking her career. So she accepts her place in the National Science Foundation’s Artists & Writers Program and flees to Antarctica, where she encounters a group of misfits motivated by desires as ambiguous as her own. The only thing the Polies have in common is the conviction that they don’t belong anywhere else. Then a fringe scientist arrives, claiming climate change is a hoax. His presence will rattle this already-imbalanced community, bringing Cooper and the Polies to the center of a global controversy and threatening the ancient ice chip they call home.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

One of The Millions' Most Anticipated Books of the Year

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

"The first fictional book [I've read] in a decade that I didn’t want to put down...Salman Rushdie recently said that in the present day the country is so filled with lies and fantasy and fiction surrounding the truth, that it might require the fiction writer to plainly lay out what is reality and what is not. I think [South Pole Station] fits that notion."—Dr. John Abraham, The Guardian

"Entertaining...The [ensemble cast’s] day-to-day dramas provide a vivid notion of what it's like to live in a frigid landscape that's dark for six months of the year.”—Alida Becker, The New York Times Book Review

"Shelby makes serious statements about scientific quests, climate change, politics and people in extremis, but it's the 'Polies' who undergird the story...With South Pole Station's satire, science, wry wit and warmth, Ashley Shelby has written one of the best novels of the year."Shelf Awareness

"If you like literature that transports you to exotic locales beyond the reach of commercial airlines and enables you to view hot topics from cool new angles, South Pole Station is just the ticket....Shelby's writing is pithy and funny...[and] in this unusual, entertaining first novel, [she] combines science with literature to make a clever case for scientists' and artists' shared conviction that 'the world could become known if only you looked hard enough.'"—Heller McAlpin, NPR

"[An] enjoyable first novel...Shelby is very good on social interactions at the end of the earth, and South Pole Station crackles with energy whenever science takes center stage"."—Dennis Drabelle, The Washington Post

"Few places evoke feelings of isolation and existential crisis like the South Pole. In this terrific debut, Ashley Shelby achieves not only that but also a grand sense of comedy...[South Pole Station] is a lovely, satirical, and emotionally complex novel about coming to terms with heartbreak and re-finding one’s self through art."LitHub (16 Books to Read This Month)

"Most associate [climate fiction] with 'sci-fi' and therefore sci-fi's most recognizable tropes...But what if we expand the genre's definition to works that address issues of climate change in the here-and-now, in worlds that aren’t speculative or futuristic at all, but rather, unnervingly familiar? What we would find are some of the most urgent, funny, and beautifully written works in contemporary fiction. Case in point: Ashley Shelby’s South Pole Station."Chicago Review of Books

"Funny, quirky, and witty."Brava Magazine (Must-Read Authors)

"An eclectic dramatis personae mans South Pole, and Shelby mines this singular society...[It's] the perfect setting for black comedy."Paste magazine

"Set in the vast yet claustrophobic reality of Antarctica, the novel's first delight is in its vivid depiction of sub-zero life...The second delight is the clear message that science is not belief. It's science....Shelby keeps more than a few story lines thrumming here, yet a keen eye for character and a sharp ear for smartass dialogue keeps the strands straight."Minneapolis Star Tribune

“[A] smart and inventive first novel...Shelby balances Eros with Thanatos in a story composed of barbed dialogue, email, and official memos.”Kirkus Reviews

“Throughout witty, often hilarious scenarios, Shelby expertly weaves in the legitimate political and environmental concerns of climate change faced by the worldwide scientific community today. Shelby's exploration of the human spirit continuously digs deeper, ever in search of answers to all of life's important questions—scientific and otherwise.”BookPage

“[A] trip into mad science, politics gone berserk, class resentment, and what happens when rival groups spend half the year isolated in abelow-zero wilderness.”The Buffalo News

South Pole Station is a portrait painted with the whole palette—science and politics; art and history; love and frostbite—and all of it crackles with the can't-make-this-up details of life at the bottom of the world. What starts as an (extreme) travel adventure turns into an (extreme) comedy of manners and then things get (extremely) real and you (will definitely) cry. Sometimes it turns out a place was just waiting for the right person to tell its story; I think South Pole Station was waiting for Ashley Shelby.”—Robin Sloan, New York Times bestselling author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

“Turn the pages of Ashley Shelby's debut novel, South Pole Station, and meet the scientists, researchers, misfits, lovers, medics, plagiarists, cooks—and the handful of wannabe artists—who populate her marvelously vivid and insular society at the bottom of the globe. This is a terrific book: one that you can live in deeply, while you're reading, only to reemerge after the final chapter, grateful and blinking, wondering where in the heck you are.”—Julie Schumacher, national bestselling author of Dear Committee Members

"Journalist [Ashley] Shelby's first novel eschews easy choices and treats interpersonal relations, grief, science, art, and political controversy with the same deft, humorous hand. Readers will find characters to love, suspect, and identify with among Cooper's fellow Polies and won't forget them easily. A good match for readers whose interest in Antarctica was sparked by Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette, those who enjoy stories about quirky individuals and made families, and extreme armchair travelers."Booklist

"Shelby's first novel, based on a short story that won the Third Coast Fiction Prize, skillfully weaves science, climate change, politics, sociology, and art...All readers of fiction, particularly those interested in life in extreme climates, will find [South Pole Station] appealing."Library Journal (starred review)

“I was dazzled by Ashley Shelby’s South Pole Stationa terrifically witty, insightful, and satisfying novel, peopled by memorable misfits thrown together in a hothouse of conflicting interests in the frozen Antarctic.”Elizabeth McKenzie, author of The Portable Veblen

"This is a fascinating novel, loaded with interesting history of Antarctic exploration, current scientific operations, and the living and working conditions of those folks brave enough to endure six months of darkness and six months of daylight."Publishers Weekly

“Ashley Shelby's debut South Pole Station is an absolute treasure. She's somehow written an infectious beach read about the coldest place on earth AND a stunning treatise on family, grief, creativity, and science. This book hits all the best notes of Where'd You Go, Bernadette and Catch 22 and has the warmth and wit to carve its way into even the iciest of hearts.”John Jodzio, author of Knockout

“Prepare for the big chill! Ashley Shelby’s mismatched cast of characters are all powerfully drawn to the South Pole, each for their own reason; Shelby charts their respective courses with sensitivity, intelligence, and grace. Here is a brave, original novel about leaving the known and familiar world in order to find it again.”Yona Zeldis McDonough, author of The House on Primrose Pond

South Pole Station is the brilliant story of artist and lost soul Cooper Gosling. In Antarctica, she meets the misfits and margin-dwellers with whom she has to navigate the webs of belief and knowledge, grief and hope, loneliness and love. South Pole Station reminds us that sometimes we have to go to the end of the earth to find what is within us.”Frank Bures, author of The Geography of Madness

Publishers Weekly

05/01/2017
Shelby’s debut novel is a (literally) chilling story of Antarctic survival at South Pole Station, where scientists, artists, and support personnel live, work, argue, and pout inside a geodesic dome in temps of 35 degrees below zero. Cooper Gosling, an unsuccessful artist, “your typical aimless thirty-year-old looking to delay the inevitable slide into mediocrity,” is accepted for a one-year assignment to South Pole Station as part of the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program. She truly is adrift in her career and personal life, but finds comfort and inclusion at South Pole Station, where personality disorders and a fondness for alcohol are seemingly requirements. The station’s isolation, close-quarters living, and bitter cold do not inspire her; more interesting for Cooper are the people and relationships she observes—the social tribes and ego posturing, especially when a hated scientist arrives. Dr. Frank Pavano is a climate change denier, and his presence riles the other scientists. When Cooper helps Pavano with an unauthorized experiment and is maimed in an accident, a blame-game investigation, a global warming scandal, and congressional outrage and meddling with funding threaten the station’s future. Cooper and her polar pals stage a mutiny, resulting in a tense, ice-cold showdown with the feds, the media, a greedy defense contractor, and an insidious energy company. This is a fascinating novel, loaded with interesting history of Antarctic exploration, current scientific operations, and the living and working conditions of those folks brave enough to endure six months of darkness and six months of daylight. (July)

Library Journal

★ 04/15/2017
Struggling with a family tragedy and its aftermath, painter Cooper Gosling receives a science and writing grant to work at the South Pole Station. By going to the "ends of the earth," she hopes to accept her loss and adjust her thinking. The sharp learning curve includes harsh weather conditions, the hierarchy of the station's social structure, and the political implications of competing scientific theories. Cooper struggles to find a new way to express herself as she gradually becomes an accepted member of the inner circle. Then she's injured in a freak accident, an event that snowballs into a major international incident. In the aftermath, she builds a new perspective and approach to life and art. Shelby's first novel, based on a short story that won the Third Coast Fiction Prize, skillfully weaves science, climate change, politics, sociology, and art. Competing ideas about the origins of the universe are wrapped in the vagaries of human nature and the dangers of climate extremes. Her characters are a quirky subset of humanity. VERDICT All readers of fiction, particularly those interested in life in extreme climates, will find this appealing. [See Prepub Alert, 2/17/17.]—Joanna Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Libs., Providence

Kirkus Reviews

2017-06-06
In the messy human petri dish at the South Pole, a comic novel brews.Shelby begins her smart and inventive first novel with 11 italicized questions plucked from a psychiatric evaluation: "Are you often sad? Do you have digestion problems due to stress? Do you have problems with authority?..."Any American headed to Antarctica in 2003 via the National Science Foundation must answer them. It's a nifty way to unpack character and signal why her heroine, Cooper Gosling, has passed only provisionally. Cooper is 30, a drinker and a fine arts painter from the upper Midwest, a smartass who holds that "hotdish had never received its gastronomic due and the fake Minnesota accents in Fargo were the blackface of regional phonology." Fetching and witty, Cooper becomes the station chief's favorite and irresistible to a tall and handsome astrophysicist. Their attraction—one of the novel's key pleasures—is telegraphed within the first few pages. Readers also learn early that Cooper is fleeing the sorrow of her twin's recent suicide; she carries a pinch of his ashes in a travel-size Tylenol bottle. Thus, Shelby balances Eros with Thanatos in a story composed of barbed dialogue, email, and official memos. A climate-change skeptic arrives to bedevil the polar community, hatching a far-fetched political conspiracy. Clearly, the writer likes agita—politics mixed with science fuels Red River Rising (2004), her nonfiction book about the catastrophic 1997 flood in Grand Forks, North Dakota. She writes well about science and the peculiar, pressurized human ecosystem at the bottom of the world. Bozer, a polar station construction chief, gets his own point-of-view chapter, and it lifts him from caricature to one of the best aspects of the book. Hovering over all is Cooper's sort-of "spirit animal," the British explorer Apsley Cherry-Garrard, who wrote the Antarctica classic The Worst Journey in the World. This new book would no doubt confound him but, in the end, bring him delight. Jokes lubricate a moving and occasionally preposterous story of love and death in the Antarctic cold.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250112811
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 07/03/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

polie

Do you ever have pain in your chest unrelated to indigestion?
Five months before this pelvic exam of the mind, Cooper Gosling had received a letter on embossed government stationery assessing her application to the National Science Foundation's Antarctic Artists & Writers Program. From it, Cooper learned that her portfolio of paintings featured "interesting juxtapositions that suggest an eye particularly attuned to the complexities of human habitation in Antarctica" and "superior technical skill that still leaves room for interpretation," as well as "a frenetic color palette within mainly controlled compositions." There was, the letter had noted tartly, "potential for improvement over the course of the fellowship."

She had been accepted, pending successful completion of physical and dental exams, fire training, and a psychological assessment at the Denver headquarters of Veritas Integrated Defense Systems, the contractor currently running the show in Afghanistan, and also in charge of basic operations at South Pole. The acceptance letter had come with an airline voucher — they expected her in Denver in three weeks. She was advised to travel light and to pay special attention to hygiene.

The night she received the letter, Cooper had driven directly to her father's house to apprise him of these developments. She imagined him falling to pieces, his joy resplendent. Bill Gosling was into this stuff: polar exploration was his deal. Sure, he preferred the heroics of the North Pole explorers, the drama of the Northwest Passage, the cannibalism of Franklin's lost expedition. But his "polar library" included memoirs from the South Pole boys, too: Shackleton, Amundsen, Scott, all first editions. Now that he'd retired from 3M, where he'd been part of the second-string Post-it team, he'd begun work on a memoir of being a polar enthusiast. It would, Cooper could only assume, include many scenes set in armchairs. They'd connect on this South Pole thing, Cooper was sure. He'd offer more than the smile her older sister, Billie, had always described as "faint." He'd confess that she now possessed the skeleton key to his soul.

Instead, he offered her another book: Apsley Cherry-Garrard's The Worst Journey in the World.

"The definitive account of the Scott expedition, written by a survivor," Bill said as he placed the book in Cooper's hands. "Make this a priority." (It was in this manner, incidentally, that Cooper had managed to slog her way through Everyman's Library of the World's Most Boring Books.) Cooper searched her father's face, but his expression remained as mild as always. Was it possible he'd forgotten? Or was he trying to tell her not to forget why she was going? Cooper had, of course, already read The Worst Journey in the World, had long ago committed entire paragraphs to memory. In fact, the book had been, throughout 1981, Cooper and her twin brother David's deranged bedtime reading. They were eight when Bill shelved Nancy Drew and opened Worst Journey. Night after night, he sat on the edge of the bed Cooper still shared with David, and narrated the adventures of what sounded like a rejected Marvel superhero team — Cherry, Birdie, Titus, Uncle Bill, and Captain Scott — as they slogged their way across Antarctica. The saga was the kind of mono-myth Cooper would later read about in her comparative mythology electives but would never encounter in real life — Trials! Atonement! Apotheosis! Birdie, Cherry, and Uncle Bill (the fine doctor Edward Wilson), who had set out on the Winter Journey to retrieve an emperor penguin egg, became a holy triumvirate.

Cooper treated each reading as if it were a poetry slam, leaping out of bed during the exciting parts, and falling asleep on David's shoulder during the boring "Spring" chapters, which featured light polar housekeeping and a broken George Robey record spinning on the gramophone. David, on the other hand, listened quietly but intently to everything. It wasn't Cherry's myopia or Edward Wilson's rendering of penguin fat that captured his imagination. It was Titus Oates, the one who walked into the blizzard, his frostbitten foot black and grotesquely swollen. Titus had asked to be left behind; he knew he was slowing them down. Scott and the others refused to leave him so he begged, like a child, and they put him to bed in his sleeping bag. He prayed, loudly, to die before morning, and when he awoke to discover he was still alive, he decided to do it himself. He didn't bother to put his boots on. This time no one stopped him.

The idea of philanthropic suicide was too abstract for Cooper to understand (their mother, Dasha, who felt explorer lit documented "man's endless quest to enlarge his penis," claimed the idea itself was impossible, not to mention inappropriate for elementary-age children). But David was gripped by the notion. Titus's honorable death figured into their play on winter days, David devising scenarios where he'd walk into the woods that ringed their suburban home in order to disappear, leaving Cooper to await his return. When Cooper played Cherry to David's Scott or his Titus, she did little more than hang around expectantly, just as Cherry had. Hoping for months to see the Scott party emerge from the Beardmore Glacier valley, Cherry was always certain the men were just over the rise. As a result, Cooper came to identify with him, this aristocrat who'd bought his way onto the Terra Nova, the Scottish whaling ship that carried the Scott party to Antarctica. Twee and myopic, Cherry was a hothouse flower; Cooper was sure everyone must have doubted him. Over the course of the journey, however, he'd become indispensable, and, eventually, its most eloquent witness.

But that was years ago now, and neither Cooper nor Bill had so much as glanced at The Worst Journey in the World in a decade. In fact, after the divorce, Bill had begun selling off his rare book collection volume by volume, and Cooper had always assumed that Worst Journey had been the first to go. It was burdened by memories that had never made the promised transition from unbearable to bittersweet. The only other copy in the house, David's own heavily annotated mass-market edition, had disappeared.

Cooper took the book from her father and chose to say nothing. Bill gazed out the window at the lightly falling snow. The flakes were fat and hairy, and they descended at an angle. Bill apprised the snow cover. He signaled his approval with a curt nod, and told Cooper to get her coat. Five minutes later, they were outside. It was after ten, but the freshly fallen snow illuminated the backyard as cleanly as moonlight. "Snow is one of the best insulating materials, if used properly," Bill said as he assessed its moisture content by rubbing the soft flakes between his fingers. "The quickest way to die is to stop paying attention."

Winter survival training dictated that you did not travel in a blizzard, he told her. You stop and dig a snow trench or make a snow cave with a hand shovel. What hand shovel? You travel with a hand shovel. If you are an amateur and don't carry a hand shovel on your person, you can use your snowshoes. What if you aren't using snowshoes? If you are sans snowshoes, you are a dipshit with no business traveling overland in winter. But if you are a dipshit traveling overland in winter with no snowshoes, you use your hands.

Bill and Cooper spent the next hour digging out a trench, a coffin-shaped cavity carved out of the snow. Cooper marveled at her father's efficiency, the certainty of his movements. How well he seemed to know how to do this.

When the specifications were just right, Bill slipped under the lip of the roof by sliding down the snow ramp they'd built to facilitate entry. Cooper peered into the darkness and saw her father supine, his hands behind his head, smiling at nothing.

"What's so funny?" she asked. Bill shook his head, but the smile remained.

"This is how I'd like to die."

"In a snow trench in your backyard?"

"In nature, in winter. Climb in the trench, kick out the roof, and go to sleep. It's like Cherry said. If Death comes for you in the snow, he comes disguised as sleep. 'You greet him rather as a welcome friend than a gruesome foe.'" Bill peered up at Cooper. "Doesn't get any easier."

It didn't occur to Cooper then to ask her father if death was supposed to be easy.

*
The suburban campus of Veritas Integrated Defense Systems looked like a centerfold from Maximum Security Prisons Quarterly. Its cinder-block buildings were divided into quadrants and separated by Lift Master Mega Arm security gates. A shuttle bus deposited Cooper, along with eight other Pole candidates, at Quadrant 9, where they were photographed and fingerprinted. They followed a Veritas employee down intersecting beige hallways in a disaffected clump. As they waited for an elevator, Cooper saw two men in royal-blue company polos in a break room staring up at a suspended television, watching a recap of Bush's State of the Union speech from the night before. "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa," Bush was saying.

"Holy shit," one of the Veritas guys laughed. "I mean, at this point, you have to go loco on Hussein, right? You have to bomb the shit out of Baghdad." He looked over at his companion. "He's gonna, right?"

The man clutching a vending-machine latte replied carelessly, "Relax, we already submitted a bid."

Cooper and the other applicants were led to a large conference room with a view of Parking Ramp Alpha (parking ramps Beta, Charlie, and Delta were a short shuttle ride from the main complex). Cooper took a seat at the table and looked around at her fellow Pole candidates: all men, all self-consciously hirsute, and all engaged in silent contests over who could fit more carabiners on their stainless-steel water bottles. They avoided making eye contact with Cooper, so she turned her attention to the stack of paperwork in front of her: hundreds and hundreds of questions that had no good answers.

Two hours and five hundred questions later, Cooper and the eight men were allowed to grab a coffee before returning to watch a mandatory video from the Veritas Integrated Defense Systems president. The video commenced with a synthesizer version of "My Country 'Tis of Thee" playing behind scenes of waving flags and purple mountains majesty. The fruited plains dissolved into a shot of a man in a company polo of slightly better quality than the ones Cooper had encountered in the break room. He wore an American flag pin on his lapel, and was looking just off camera.

"I'm Daniel Atcheson Johnson, president of Veritas Integrated Defense Systems, or VIDS. For over seventy-five years we have worked to develop advanced technologies that help planes navigate, reduce traffic congestion, even land astronauts on the moon. With such diverse capabilities, VIDS is much more than a defense contractor. We are a global citizen invested in our collective future. Defense technologies with civilian applications, and the building of bridges between the defense industry and the people we protect. That is our commitment to you. The guidance chip in a medium-range ballistic missile shares the same technology found in your car's airbag. Think about that for a moment, and you'll realize that the future is VIDS." After a brief pause, during which someone behind the camera seemed to be instructing him to continue, Johnson added, "VIDS — the first line of defense and your trusted partner for a better tomorrow."

The door rattled open, and Cooper turned to see one of the psychologists beckoning her toward the door. Together, the women walked down the hall and into a windowless room. Inside were a desk, two chairs, and a limp spider plant with no hope of achieving photosynthesis.

Once they were seated, the psychologist offered Cooper a sympathetic smile. "Glad that's over, right? I mean, what a drag, all those questions."

"You have to ask them, I guess," Cooper replied, cautious.

"Why do you think we have to ask those questions, Cooper?"

"Why do you ask those questions?" Christ, why was she repeating the questions back? "My guess would be to weed out people who may not be mentally fit for polar service," she said.

"Do you consider yourself fit for South Pole?"

"If I didn't, I wouldn't be here," Cooper said, even though she had no idea what made a person "fit for South Pole." But she realized that to a psychologist looking for a problem, she sounded impatient. "I can clarify, if that's allowed."

"Relax" — the psychologist consulted her papers — "Cooper. This isn't a test. It's a conversation."

"I guess what I was trying to say is that I'm going down on an artist fellowship. It's not like I'm an astrophysicist or someone really important on the support side."

"You don't consider yourself important?"

"I just mean that it will probably be easier for me. It's not like people's lives depend on whether I complete a painting or not." Just mine, she thought.

The psychologist pulled a piece of paper out of a file, read it, then looked up at Cooper. "Are there any emotional or psychological traumas you feel could impact your potential for success at Pole?" Cooper was irritated by the psychologist's work-around of the obvious trauma — the emotional liability — that she had disclosed on her paperwork. It was as if the woman were trying to extract a confession. Cooper tried to rearrange her face in a way that conveyed both sadness and stability. That it was bad, yes, but that the jagged-glass edges of it had been smoothed over by the last nine months, even if they hadn't. Cooper had never known a jagged edge to become smooth, not unless it was broken off completely.

"You're talking about my brother, right? I mean, if that's what you mean by emotional 'trauma.'" Cooper made quote hooks around the word trauma, and the psychologist frowned. "Sorry," Cooper said, and added, "Trauma," this time without the quote hooks.

"Suicide is a major emotional trauma." The psychologist paused, waiting. "Would you like to talk about it?"

Cooper stared into the woman's face, a Glamour Shots advertisement come to life. Did she want to "talk about it"? Did she have a pressing need to unburden herself to a woman wearing faux leather knee-high boots in a building on the campus of the world's second-largest defense contractor? How could she explain that this was the only way you could talk about it, by disclosing it in paperwork, by putting air quotes around it, by gliding along the surface? Cooper knew that explaining this would make her unfit for polar service. That, and telling the truth about David, because if there was a gene for what he had, for the schizophrenic madness that boldly announced itself one day like a Mary Kay saleswoman, then maybe it was somewhere in Cooper, too. Unexpressed, perhaps, or merely waiting for a trigger.

She braced herself for more probing, more note-taking, but suddenly the psychologist shifted gears and told Cooper they could come back to the David question. Cooper knew from months of sliding-scale therapy that the sudden shift away from what her therapist called Cooper's "dominant story" did not bode well for her chances of landing at Pole. She was overwhelmed by the feeling of having been summarily dismissed. She wanted to go to Pole. She had to go to Pole. Cooper had no idea where the sudden desperation was coming from, but she knew she'd rather lie down in a snow trench and kick in the roof than not go to Pole.

The psychologist handed Cooper a sheaf of papers.

"Here are the results of those tests, by the way."

"Already?"

"We have a machine."

Cooper folded the papers in half without looking at them. This caught the psychologist's attention.

"You don't want to see your results? It's actually very interesting. It takes your answers and graphs your responses, showing where you fall in several categories of human neuroses." She turned her copy of Cooper's test toward her. "Take 'tendency toward delusional thinking,' for example."

It seemed to Cooper as if the earth had tilted slightly, by degrees. She gripped the arms of the chair in a way that didn't suggest panic.

"Here is the center line," the psychologist continued, "which represents a statistically 'normal' person. This x here shows us where your answers indicate you'd fall. No one falls right on the line." Cooper did not look up from her hands to see where the x was.

"Cooper?"

"I'm sorry," Cooper replied. "I'm not much into explanations." The psychologist stared at Cooper for a moment, the tests limp in her hand. Look her in the eyes. "I just want to paint at the bottom of the earth," Cooper heard herself say.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "South Pole Station"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Ashley Shelby.
Excerpted by permission of Picador.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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