This Magnificent Desolation

Thomas O'Malley, Author
Thomas O’Malley. Bloomsbury, $26 (416p) ISBN 978-1-60819-279-3
Reviewed on: 01/28/2013
Release date: 03/19/2013
Hardcover - 403 pages - 978-1-4088-4260-7
Open Ebook - 978-1-60819-471-1
Paperback - 416 pages - 978-1-4088-3446-6
Paperback - 416 pages - 978-1-60819-470-4
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Raised in a Catholic orphanage in Minnesota’s Iron Range, Duncan, the youthful hero of O’Malley’s unrelentingly grim second novel (after In the Province of Saints), grows up listening to the story of how his mother left him there during the storm of the century in 1970. Eleven years later, Duncan’s mother, once-promising opera singer Maggie Bright, returns to take him back to San Francisco, where she works as an oncology terminal ward nurse, moonlights as a saloon singer, and drinks too much. In his new home, Duncan, who finds a kind of surrogate father in his mother’s friend Joshua McGreevey (a Vietnam veteran employed 70 feet under the city digging the San Padre Tunnel), is obsessed with the Apollo space program, especially Apollo 11, whose astronauts he believes never returned from the moon. Over the next four years, Duncan deals with suicide, sickness, violence, and catastrophic accidents while navigating between an unknown past and an uncertain future. Some readers might feel that this novel’s emotional landscape, populated by characters haunted by their personal histories, fulfills astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s famous description of the moon as “a magnificent desolation,” while others may find the endless litany of despair hollow and forced. Agent: Richard Abate, 3 Arts Entertainment. (Mar.)
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