cover image Beautiful Islands

Beautiful Islands

Russell Martin. Simon & Schuster, $17.45 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-671-64662-2

Jack Healy is a successful astronaut, but his life is otherwise falling apart. Peggy, his wife of 12 years, has left him, taking their two children, claiming he's too dedicated to his job with NASA. He takes up with Jane, a childhood sweetheart, who was mutilated in a driving accident that also killed her husband. But Jane is afraid of becoming involved with Jack because she thinks he's an unrealistic romantic. Then his schizophrenic brother kills himself, and Jack is sure he failed the brother in some way. Finally, the Challenger orbiter explodes, with devastating effect on the NASA program and Jack's career. In charting Jack's stressful year, Martin implies that Jack was too wrapped up in NASA to be a proper family man. On the other hand, Jack is presented as such an excruciatingly decent and considerate fellowsexy toothat you can't see how he could have gone so wrong. He may be a technocrat, but, like Job, he really doesn't deserve this series of disasters. Martin obsessively describes the banal details of existencewhat people wear and eat, what it's like driving from here to there on the interstate highways and so on. The prosaic tone of the prose is in jarring counterpoint to the melodramatic incidents of the narrative, but is curiously appropriate withal; in the novel, as in real life, at the moment of the Challenger explosion, the NASA announcer comments, ""Obviously a major malfunction.'' (April)