cover image America Was Hard to Find

America Was Hard to Find

Kathleen Alcott. Ecco, $27.99 (432p) ISBN 978-0-06-266252-1

This richly ruminative novel refracts 30 years of American culture and history through the lives of characters who serve as surrogates for their historical counterparts. In 1957, Fay Fern is working as a bartender in her sister’s dive bar in the Mojave Desert when she begins an affair with Vincent Kahn, one of the astronauts in training in America’s nascent space program. In 12 years, Vincent will become the first man to walk on the moon, and Fay, who leaves him in 1960 while pregnant with a son she never told him about, will have drifted to the radical side of the counterculture as a member of Shelter, an extremist group loosely modeled on the Weather Underground. In the 1980s, Fay and Vincent’s son, Wright, who is gay, flees the climate of AIDS activism his partner has embraced to seek out the father he never met. Alcott (Infinite Home) humanizes her characters by focusing intensively on their thoughts and feelings as they grapple with the grand significance of their times and personal experiences, especially Vincent, who thinks of himself as one of the “men with the defining moment of their life now behind them, totally and forever irrelevant.” Alcott’s novel is a sharp and moving reminder of the human dimension of even the most outsize historical events. (May)