(Audio)Book Talk: *Shine Shine Shine* by Lydia Netzer

Shine Shine Shine
Lydia Netzer (Blog) (Facebook) (Twitter)
Audiobook read by Joshilyn Jackson
St. Martin’s Press (July 2012), Hardcover (ISBN 1250007070 / 9781250007070)
Fiction, 320 pages
Source: Purchased audiobook (Macmillan Audio; Audible ASIN B008M20XUK)
Reason for reading: Personal

Opening lines: “Deep in darkness, there was a tiny light. Inside the light, he floated in a spaceship. It felt cold to him, floating there. Inside his body, he felt the cold of space. He could still look out the round windows of the rocket and see the Earth. He could also see the moon sometimes, coming closer. The Earth rotated slowly and the spaceship moved slowly, relative to the things that were around it. There was nothing he could do now, one way or the other. He was part of a spaceship going to the moon. He wore white paper booties instead of shoes.”

Book description, from the publisher’s website:
When Maxon met Sunny, he was seven years, four months, and eighteen-days old. Or, he was 2693 rotations of the earth old. Maxon was different. Sunny was different. They were different together.

Now, twenty years later, they are married, and Sunny wants, more than anything, to be “normal.” She’s got the housewife thing down perfectly, but Maxon, a genius engineer, is on a NASA mission to the moon, programming robots for a new colony. Once they were two outcasts who found unlikely love in each other: a wondrous, strange relationship formed from urgent desire for connection. But now they’re parents to an autistic son. And Sunny is pregnant again. And her mother is dying in the hospital. Their marriage is on the brink of imploding, and they’re at each other’s throats with blame and fear. What exactly has gone wrong? Sunny wishes Maxon would turn the rocket around and come straight-the-hell home.

When an accident in space puts the mission in peril, everything Sunny and Maxon have built hangs in the balance. Dark secrets, long-forgotten murders, and a blond wig all come tumbling to the light. And nothing will ever be the same.…

Comments: I’ve quoted the publisher’s synopsis of Shine Shine Shine above, but here’s a capsule from the author’s website that gets to its essence:

“A novel about robots, sex, the American family, the secrets of newsmen, the dangers of fitting in, and a rocket to the moon.”

I prefer that short description of a novel that’s not at all easy to describe, and I’ve included two descriptions because I’m not really sure how to sum this one up in my own words. Let me try this: Shine Shine Shine  is Lydia Netzer’s ambitious, strange, genre-blending debut novel, and while it seems to reflect a wide range of influences, the whole of it is strikingly original.

Shine Shine Shine ’s primary narrative thread is propelled by two collisions occurring within days of each other and over a hundred thousand miles apart. Nine-months-pregnant Sunny Mann’s minivan is broadsided while she is driving home with her autistic son, Bubber, after visiting her dying mother in the hospital. The only casualties are the van and one of Sunny’s wigs–its flight into a puddle exposes her to the neighbors as completely bald. The accident occurs on the day her astronaut husband Maxon has left on a mission; he’s with the team charged with delivering the robots he developed to prepare the moon for a human colony. But when their ship is hit by an asteroid and they lose communication with NASA, their mission–and lives–depend on Maxon’s ability to put those robots to work a little earlier than expected.

The parallel threads of accidents and aftermath are intercut with flashbacks to Sunny and Maxon and their near-lifelong history together, as seen from both of their perspectives and by Sunny’s mother, Emma Butcher. Maxon and Sunny are an odd couple, but not in the sense of being a strange match; it’s because that they’re both odd. Sunny’s not just bald-headed, she’s a completely hairless, fatherless girl who craves normalcy, and Maxon is a misfit genius with some resemblance to the robots he’ll eventually create. These people could have been portrayed as not much more than off-putting collections of quirks, but for the most part, Netzer dodges that potential hazard. Although I found the storytelling in Shine Shine Shine  a little overworked in spots, I was won over by the richness and humanity of her characters. I could identify with them, but I didn’t feel like I’d met them before, and I appreciated that.

This novel first came to my attention last spring in a Shelf Awareness “Maximum Shelf” feature, and while it seems to have fallen short on the book-blogger buzz-o-meter since then, it lodged in a corner of my brain as “the one about the bald wife and the astronaut” (although at times I did confuse it with the also starry-covered The Age of Miracles). But when I learned that the audiobook was narrated by Joshilyn Jackson, I quickly and easily decided that I wouldn’t delay in reading Shine Shine Shine  by ear. Jackson beautifully differentiates the three narrative voices, and her performance seems to convey a real affection for the material–the narrator and the author are long-time friends. If you also choose to read this as an audio, stick around for the conversation between Netzer and Jackson about the book and two songs from Netzer’s “folk-punk” band, The Virginia Janes, that close the recording.

I’ve seen mixed blogger responses to Shine Shine Shine   which really isn’t that surprising–in its way, it’s as odd as its protagonists, and that won’t work for every reader. I loved it for the fact it wasn’t afraid to be odd, but I’m still trying to decide how much I loved it for itself. In any case, it captivated me, and I’ll be interested in seeing how Lydia Netzer follows it up.

Rating: Book–3.75/5, Audio–4/5
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