Author: Lydia Millet

Category: Literary Fiction

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Transported to the 21st century, Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard, and Enrico Fermi grapple with the legacy of the atom bomb in this “shattering and beautiful” time travel novel (Entertainment Weekly). Oh Pure and Radiant Heart plucks the three scientists who were key to the invention of the atom bomb—Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard and Enrico Fermi—as they watch history’s first mushroom cloud rise over the desert on July 16th, 1945 . . . and places them down in modern-day Santa Fe. One by one, the scientists are spotted by a shy librarian who becomes convinced of their authenticity. Entranced, bewildered, overwhelmed by their significance as historical markers on the one hand, and their peculiar personalities on the other, she, to the dismay of her husband, devotes herself to them. Soon the scientists acquire a sugar daddy—a young pothead millionaire from Tokyo who bankrolls them. Heroes to some, lunatics or con artists to others, the scientists finally become messianic religious figureheads to fanatics, who believe Oppenheimer to be the Second Coming. As the ever-growing convoy traverses the country in a fleet of RV’s on a pilgrimage to the UN, the scientists wrestle with the legacy of their invention and their growing celebrity, while Ann and her husband struggle with the strain on their marriage, a personal journey married to a history of thermonuclear weapons.“Possesses the nervy irreverence of Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller . . . Can only be described as, well, genius.” —Vanity Fair

Review "In Millet's surreal fifth novel, three physicists—Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and Leo Szilard—are transported from their posts during the Second World War to the year 2003. After overcoming the usual time-travel quandaries—shock at children shouting expletives, unfamiliarity with power steering—the trio, being geniuses, quickly adapt. Szilard starts quoting rap lyrics. In penitence for their contributions to the creation of the atomic bomb, they set off on a mission to promote world peace, only to have their message hijacked by religious fanatics who believe that Oppenheimer is a herald of the Second Coming. The scientists want to stop nuclear proliferation, but it's the proliferation of stereotypes—relentlessly chipper New Agers, soulless Wall Street executives, militant evangelicals—that sabotages the author's attempt at lyrical transcendence." —The New Yorker"An entirely original novel: equal parts funny and chilling, accurate and bizarre." —Philadelphia Weekly"The pushed-to-the-edge characters, lavish details and suspenseful plot are mesmerizing." —Chicago Tribune"Brilliant and fearless . . . a shattering and beautiful work." —Entertainment Weekly"Compassionate satire . . . a terrific premise and writing so assured that readers should be lining up for admission to this dystopia." —Christian Science Monitor"Possesses the nervy irreverence of Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller . . . Can only be described as, well, genius." —Vanity Fair From Bookmarks Magazine Oppenheimer, Szilard, and Fermi can deal with life in the 2000s, but their consciences don?t fare as well; the scientists seek redemption both for themselves and the modern world. Despite the outlandish premise of her new novel?a combination of black comedy, history, science, time travel, and spiritual inquiry?Millet?s "what-if" scenario resounds as loudly today as it did 60 years ago. She draws amazing portraits of the physicists (the elegant Oppenheimer in particular) and finds humor in tragedy: "The Atomic Energy Commission says the best defense against an atom bomb is to BE SOMEWHERE ELSE when it bursts." Walk-ons, including the followers named after New Testament characters, are not as convincing, and a preachy environmentalism annoyed some critics. The consensus: the novel is "a shattering and beautiful work" (Entertainment Weekly). Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. From The New Yorker In Millet's surreal fifth novel, three physicists—Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and Leo Szilard—are transported from their posts during the Second World War to the year 2003. After overcoming the usual time-travel quandaries—shock at children shouting expletives, unfamiliarity with power steering—the trio, being geniuses, quickly adapt. Szilard starts quoting rap lyrics. In penitence for their contributions to the creation of the atomic bomb, they set off on a mission to promote world peace, only to have their message hijacked by religious fanatics who believe that Oppenheimer is a herald of the Second Coming. The scientists want to stop nuclear proliferation, but it's the proliferation of stereotypes—relentlessly chipper New Agers, soulless Wall Street executives, militant evangelicals—that sabotages the author's attempt at lyrical transcendence. Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. From Publishers Weekly Starred Review. What if Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard, the primary physicists from the Manhattan Project, returned to contemporary America to survey their atomic legacy? That question forms the heart of Millet's excellent fourth novel, in which the souls of the three take earthly form in the present-day Southwest. Ann, a New Mexico librarian, spots the reincarnated Oppenheimer and Fermi at a restaurant near her home; Szilard soon joins them; Ann persuades her garden-designer husband, Ben, to take them all in. Subsequent trips to Los Alamos and (with the help of a rich UFOlogist) Japan to view the monuments at Hiroshima persuade the three to work for disarmament. Army surveillance ensues; at one rally, shots are fired; and Christian Fundamentalists try to take things in a more rapturous direction. It takes considerable talent to pull off a conceit like this, and for the most part Millet makes it look easy, drawing full-blown, dead-on portraits of the three scientists that don't diminish their characters or their work. Her threads on weapons buildup, the topsy-turvy mosaic of contemporary American political culture and the difficulties of marriage feel realistically motivated and nicely argued. Millet gives a whimsical conceit real depth, and the result, if a bit pious in spots, is a superb, memorable novel. (July) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. From The Washington Post History as we know it came to an end on July 16, 1945. On that day, the first atomic bomb was detonated on a test site dubbed Trinity in Los Alamos, N.M. At the exact moment of the flash, three of the scientists responsible -- Leo Szilard, Robert Oppenheimer and Enrico Fermi -- were propelled forward in time to modern-day Santa Fe, where they must come to terms with the legacy of their creation. Or so runs the conceit of Lydia Millet's complex and affecting (if sometimes maddening) fifth novel, Oh Pure and Radiant Heart. Taken in and cared for by a disaffected librarian named Ann and her skeptical husband, Ben, the three scientists soon realize that nothing but complete worldwide disarmament will prevent Armageddon. They swiftly land their first apostle -- a conveniently wealthy sensualist named Larry, who brings with him a motley assortment of disciples, including trippy Japanese club kids and ex-Deadheads. Larry is rich enough to bankroll the whole peace movement, and before Ann can say "Left Behind," two of the scientists have moved out of her house and into fancy new digs. Soon the growing entourage takes its show on the road, bound for a massive march on Washington. When their message gets co-opted by a cabal of radical Christians who believe Oppenheimer is the fulfilment of biblical prophecy, the stage is set for an apocalyptic conclusion. Millet has staked her novelistic reputation on taking chances. She is the author of George Bush, Dark Prince of Love and the PEN/USA award-winning My Happy Life, about a naive young woman abandoned in a mental institution. Oh Pure and Radiant Heart may be her biggest gamble yet; it also promises to have the largest payoff because, while its premise seems absurd at first, its message is anything but. Here Rapture takes on many guises, and it is fitting that in a novel exploring the lives of those who set out to play God, Millet would playfully mirror the New Testament, giving us everyone from a John the Baptist walk-on named Eugene to a wannabe Mary Magdalene documentary filmmaker and a Judas among the camp followers. For the most part, the religious undercurrents are apt. Oppenheimer, who sincerely believed he was serving humanity by ending World War II, was later crucified by the anti-communists for his political leanings and opposition to the hydrogen bomb. Millet's portrait of him is the most complex in the book, as he reluctantly accepts the mantle of doomed prophet almost as penance for what he has brought into the world. But Millet devotes too many pages to the wearying multitude of followers, most of whom we get to know only as deeply as their salient satirical traits: Sheila the New Age babbler, Webster the contortionist, Adalbert the Belgian food activist. Millet's humor is far better showcased in the understated irony of the atomic history she weaves through the narrative, such as this advice offered in an educational filmstrip: "The Atomic Energy Commission says the best defense against an atom bomb is to BE SOMEWHERE ELSE when it bursts." Or there's the chilling tidbit that the majority of workers who staffed Pantex (the endpoint for assembling most American nuclear weapons) were born-again Christians who believed they were doing God's work in speeding along the Rapture. Yet for all its zaniness, this book is a serious indictment -- not so much of the pothead zealots and religious End-Timers (they, at least, have embraced their own idiosyncratic raptures) but of Ann, Millet's perpetually sleepy and dreaming protagonist. Describing her girlhood reluctance to leave her warm bed and set foot upon a cold floor, she tells her husband, "There was this static feeling right then, this feeling of being frozen . . . torn between doing something and doing nothing. . . . I didn't recognize it back then but now I see what it was. . . . It was how I was going to spend the rest of my life." If the Anns of the world remain paralyzed, Millet seems to argue, agents of darkness will make their decisions for them. In his last speech, delivered to the crowd but directed at Ann, Oppenheimer poses the book's central issue: "The question is not, who is the enemy. . . . The right question is: What is it in me that delivers the world into the hands of the enemy?" Sixty years after Trinity, with our own government developing nuclear "bunker busters" and conducting subcritical underground tests, it is a question Millet believes we should all be asking. Reviewed by Sheri Holman Copyright 2005, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. From Booklist *Starred Review* Millet, whose three previous novels include the PEN-USA Award winner My Happy Life (2002), boldly fuses lyrical realism with precisely rendered far-outness to achieve a unique energy and perspicacity, the ideal approach to the most confounding reality of our era: the atomic bomb. This trippy yet revelatory epic begins in present-day Santa Fe, where librarian Ann and her gardener-husband Ben end up giving sanctuary to three renowned atomic physicists bewildered at finding themselves in the twenty-first century when the last thing they remember is the Trinity test in July 1945. There's elegant and chain-smoking Robert Oppenheimer; depressed Enrico Fermi; and Leo Szilard, who, when he isn't stuffing his face, is busy launching a global disarmament movement. Ann and Ben take this unholy trinity of unwitting time travelers on a pilgrimage to Hiroshima, after which a megawealthy Tokyo pothead offers to bankroll Szilard's mission. Things soon take on an End Times intensity as the physicists travel cross-country in an ever-growing caravan (picture Grateful Dead followers), which is soon hijacked by a militaristic Christian group who worships Oppenheimer as the Second Coming. As nonfiction books about the nuclear threat proliferate, Millet's brilliant, madcap, poetic, fact-spiked, and penetrating novel (think Twain, Vonnegut, Murakami, and DeLillo) illuminates the personal dimension of our most daunting dilemma. Donna SeamanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. From the Back Cover "Though Oh Pure and Radiant Heart possesses the nervy irreverence of Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller, Millet makes the subject matter her own, capturing the essence of these geniuses in a way that can only be described as, well, genius." Vanity FairNearly sixty years after they watched history s first mushroom cloud rise over the desert in 1945, scientists Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard, and Enrico Fermi mysteriously appear in Sante Fe, New Mexico. Faced with the evidence of their nuclear legacy, they embark on a global disarmament campaign. Along the way, they acquire a billionaire pothead benefactor and a growing convoy of RVs carrying groupies, activists, Deadheads, New Age freeloaders, and religious fanatics. In this heroically mischievous, sweeping tour de force, Lydia Millet brings us an apocalyptic fable that evokes both the beauty and the tragedy of the nuclear sublime. "Part farce, part comedy of errors, part spiritual inquiry, part historical testimony, part love story. . . a richly dimensional, shrewd and humanistic tale." Chicago Tribune"Complex and affecting . . . while its premise seems absurd at first, its message is anything but." Washington Post Book World"Oh Pure and Radiant Heart provides catharsis and education while allowing us to bask in the humorous, poignant possibilities of what if." The BelieverLYDIA MILLET is the author of several previous novels, including Everyone's Pretty and My Happy Life, which won the PEN Center USA Award for Fiction. She lives in the desert outside Tucson, Arizona. " --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition. Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. 1~ In the middle of the twentieth century three men were charged with the task of removing the tension between minute and vast things. It was their job to rend asunder the smallest unit of being known to be separable from itself; out of a particle so modest there are billions in a single tear, in a moment so brief it could not be perceived, they would make the finite infinite. Two of the scientists were self-selected to split the atom. Leo Szilard and Enrico Fermi had chosen long before to work on the matter, to follow in the footsteps of Marie Curie and her husband, who had discovered radioactivity. The third man was a theoretical physicist who had considered the subject of the divisible atom among many others. He was a generalist, not a specialist. He did not select himself per se, but was chosen for the job by a soldier. Thousands worked at the whims of these men. From Szilard they took the first idea, from Fermi the fuel, from Oppenheimer both the orders and the inspiration. They built the first atomic bomb with primitive tools, performing their calculations on the same slide rules schoolchildren were given. For complex sums they punched keys on adding machines. Their equipment was clumsy and dull, or so it would seem by the standards of their children. Only their minds were sharp. In three years they achieved a technological miracle. Essentially they learned how to split the atom by chiseling secret runes onto rocks. And it should be admitted, the concession must be gracefully made: in the moment when a speck of dust acquires the power to engulf the world in fire, suddenly, then, all bets are off. Suddenly then there is no idea that cannot be entertained. ~ On a clear, cool spring night more than half a century after the invention of the atom bomb, a woman lying in her bed in the rich and leisured citadel of Santa Fe, New Mexico, had a dream. This itself was not surprising. To be precise it was less a dream than an idea in the struggle of waking up. She thought the dream as she began to rouse herself and she was left, after waking, with an urgency that had no answer. She was left salty and dry, trussed up in a sheet, the length of her a shudder of vague regret. In the dream a man was kneeling in the desert. The man was J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Father of the Atom Bomb. The desert was an American desert: it was the New Mexico desert, and the site was named Trinity. Oppenheimer named it that. He gave lofty names to all his works, all except Fat Man and Little Boy. These details would be revealed to her later. At the time nothing had a name but the man. The man’s porkpie hat was tipped forward on his head and his pants were torn. His knobby knees were scratched and the abrasions were full of sand. She almost thought she could feel the sand against her own raw flesh, where the grains agitated. It may have been dust on the sheet beneath her, or, further removed, dust between the sheet and the mattress, a pea dreamed by a princess. He was bent over abjectly, his face turned to the ground. Then there was the flash, as bright as a thousand suns, which turned night into day. And on the horizon the fireball rose, spreading silently. In the spreading she felt peace, peace and what came before, as though the country beneath her, with its wide prairies, had been returned to the wild. She saw the cloud churning and growing, majestic and broad, and thought: No, not a mushroom, but a tree. A great and ancient tree, growing and sheltering us all. The sight of it was poetry, the kind that turns men’s bones to dust before their hearts. At this point in the scene she confused it with the Bible. The man named Oppenheimer saw what he had made, and it was beautiful. But when he looked at it, the light burned out his eyes and turned him blind. She saw the rolling balls of the eyes when he righted himself to face the tree, and they were white like eggs. ~ Back then she knew nothing about Oppenheimer’s life: not who he was, not the identities of places, not the fact that the sand in the scrapes in his knees would have been the sand of the valley with the Spanish name Jornada del Muerto, Voyage of the Dead. There were infinite details she could not recognize, infinite details beyond her awareness in her own half-idea, in the deep blind territory of what is not known to be known but is known all the same. Also there was what she knew without knowing why she knew it, for example the phrase brighter than a thousand suns. She recalled these words without a hint of where they came from or how they had fiist been imprinted on her memory. She did not know what ?brighter than a thousand suns” would mean, how a brightness so bright could be outdone. The eye is not equal to even one sun, she thought. Straight, unwavering, bold, the eye cannot abide it. A thousand suns? The eye could never adapt. Or maybe once it is blinded the eye is transformed, she thought, and ceases to be an eye at all. How much is learned unconsciously? It must be vast, she thought. We sweep through fields of knowledge and later all we can see is the dirt that clings to the hems of our clothes. Of course the scene itself, the dramatic idea that was not quite as unconscious as a dream, might have simply been a blurry cognitive rerun of any number of World War Two documentaries. It might have been a fragment from television, a black-and-white epic of scarred and pocked newsreels interspersed with propaganda footage from theNuremberg rallies. She might remember young boys marching in synchronicity and jutting out their arms in salute; further she might recall the chilling but majestic banners hanging long and thin and several stories high above the seemingly endless crowds, their spidery symbols rippling like water in the wind. And over this she might recall the droning, authoritative voice of a British narrator. Afterward she remembered the name. She could not forget the name, in fact, in the way a bad jingle overstays its welcome, tinny and insistent, lodged in the neural pathways of the brain. It was a famous name, or a name that had once been famous anyway, before she was born when her parents were young, when the Japs got what was coming to them, and later still when the drunkard McCarthy was hunting down Communists. It was Oppenheimer, J. R. Also the words The Father of the Atom Bomb.  A few days before, in waking life, she had seen the name at a small garage sale in a driveway, on the yellowing pages of a dog-eared copy of an old magazine from 1948, titled Physics Today. At the garage sale she had purchased a trivet, and the trivet had been sitting on this magazine when it caught her attention. She did not need a trivet, and in particular she did not need a porcelain trivet decorated with watercolor-style renderings of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. But she felt a need to compensate the woman who was trying to sell it. The woman had a gentle gaze and a distracted manner and admittedly also a flipper for one arm. Later, when she thought of the magazine cover, she also thought of printed words on the trivet: The Hanging Gardens of Babylon. On the cover of the magazine was a picture: the porkpie hat perched on some pipes, possibly in a factory. Later she learned the porkpie hat had been a stand-in for Oppenheimer at the height of his fame. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when the bombs had been dropped, the war was over and the Father of the Atom Bomb was a hero, the hat actually posed alone for photographs. As an ambassador, the hat had a simple message. It said: I am worn by a gentleman. It said: We are all gentlemen here.© 2006, 2005 Lydia MilletAll rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at www.harcourt.com/contact or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777. --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition. About the Author Lydia Millet is the PEN Award-winning author of eleven works of literary fiction, including Sweet Lamb of Heaven and Magnificence, which have been New York Times Notables and Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalists. She lives in Arizona.Hillary Huber is a multiple Audie Award finalist, an Earphones Award winner, and an AudioFile Best Voice. She has recorded over three hundred titles spanning many genres and holds a bachelor's degree in English literature. A voracious reader and listener, she was raised in Connecticut and Hawaii but now splits her time between California and New York. --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.