cover image This Ordinary Stardust: A Scientist’s Path from Grief to Wonder

This Ordinary Stardust: A Scientist’s Path from Grief to Wonder

Alan R. Townsend. Grand Central, $29 (256p) ISBN 978-1-538741-18-4

Biologist Townsend recounts in his gut-wrenching debut memoir how the cancer diagnoses of his wife and daughter reshaped his ideas about scientific inquiry. When Townsend’s daughter, Neva, was four, an MRI revealed a tumor in her pituitary gland that could only be removed with invasive brain surgery. While Neva recovered from that procedure, Townsend’s wife, fellow scientist Diana, discovered she had two deadly, inoperable glioblastoma brain tumors. As Townsend navigated the ups and downs of Diana’s illness for the final year of her life—and of counseling Neva through it, at one point allaying her concerns that she’d passed the cancer onto her mother—he began to think in new ways about his chosen profession. He found solace in the idea that people consist of “trillions of outer-space atoms, moving around temporarily as one, sensing and seeing and falling in love” before scattering to join “a new team.” Therefore, microscopic pieces of loved ones live forever. Such musings, rendered in lyrical but not too precious prose, convincingly mix with the book’s more somber passages to produce a powerful message of hope, which Townsend accentuates with loving, indelible portraits of Neva and Diana. The result is a remarkable account of a shifting consciousness that’s likely to shift the reader’s own. Agent: Anna Sproul-Latimer, Neon Literary. (June)