A review of

Oh Pure and Radiant Heart

by Lydia Millet

Central question: When the physicists who created the atom bomb come back from the dead, will they feel guilty?
Format: 489 pp., hardcover; Size: 6” x 9”; Price: $25; Publisher: Soft Skull Press; Editor: Richard Nash; Cover design: David Janik; Print run: 7,000; An impressive thing the author has won: PEN-USA Award for Fiction; Typeface: Garamond; Other just-released book: Everyone’s Pretty; Representative passage: “Joy rises unexpectedly, she thought, now in peace, now in crisis. The feeling of it escapes design. Surging only at the far end of endurance, on the lip of despair. It trills a faint pulse beyond the normal in the tiredness of limbs, a lifted grief, the flash and glitter of the sea.”

Lydia Millet’s Oh Pure and Radiant Heart, a sprawling novel founded on an ambitious and unusual conceit, begins when a woman in present-day New Mexico dreams of Robert Oppenheimer and a mushroom cloud. Soon thereafter, she encounters Oppenheimer while running errands around town.

Other than her apparent ability to conjure controversial historical figures from the beyond, Anne is an American Everywoman: she has a good job as a suburban librarian, a cute house, and a sexy husband who adores her and is eager to start a family; her grass seems fairly green. But instead of stagnating in her small town contentment, Anne persists in viewing the world as a threatening dystopia and can’t help but search around for something more largely meaningful to fill her days. Enter Oppenheimer, inventor of the atom bomb, and his lab cronies, Leo Szilard and Enrico Fermi. Lacking enough faith in the future—or the present, for that matter—to bring a baby into the world, Anne trails this unsuspecting trio from the past. She eventually invites them home, where they are accepted by her accommodating if mystified husband.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Meredith Phillips

Meredith Phillips ghostwrote Rodents Rule, among a few other books supposedly by animals. She lives in Brooklyn.

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