cover image Singer Distance

Singer Distance

Ethan Chatagnier. Tin House, $27.95 (280p) ISBN 978-1-953534-43-9

Chatagnier’s soaring debut novel (after the collection Warnings from the Future) centers on a group of five MIT grad students who head west in their attempt to contact extraterrestrial beings. In the early 1960s, Rick and his girlfriend Crystal, along with three friends Ronnie, Otis, and Priya, spend their Christmas traveling along Route 66. Crystal’s father, an academic statistician, told her stories when she was a little girl about Mars and the mathematical messages rumored in the early 1920s to have been carved into its surface in response to contact attempts. After scrutiny, she thinks she has solved the mystery of the latest Martian mathematical message and attempts to respond by planting flags in the Arizona desert. When lovestruck Rick realizes Crystal has gone missing, he searches for clues to her whereabouts and ends up looking for her in California. Chatagnier does an excellent job channeling the hippie students’ grit, joy, and constant self-awareness. Rick, describing the group in his narration, says they’re “dirty as beggars but we were grinning,” and he offers enriching development of all the characters as Rick incrementally solves the mystery of Crystal’s whereabouts. The elements of astronomy, numerology, love, and the possibility of extraterrestrial life are structured perfectly as each of the five commit to their “long-shot missions and desperate hopes.” Readers are in for a memorable adventure. (Oct.)