Cover image for Trinity
Title:
Trinity
ISBN:
9780062851963

9781472154033

9780062851970
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York, NY : Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, [2018]
Physical Description:
324 pages ; 22 cm
Summary:
"From the acclaimed author of Speak comes a kaleidoscopic novel about Robert Oppenheimer--father of the atomic bomb--as told by seven fictional characters J. Robert Oppenheimer was a brilliant scientist, a champion of liberal causes, and a complex and often contradictory character. He loyally protected his Communist friends, only to later betray them under questioning. He repeatedly lied about love affairs. And he defended the use of the atomic bomb he helped create, before ultimately lobbying against nuclear proliferation. Through narratives that cross time and space, a set of characters bears witness to the life of Oppenheimer, from a secret service agent who tailed him in San Francisco, to the young lover of a colleague in Los Alamos, to a woman fleeing McCarthyism who knew him on St. John. As these men and women fall into the orbit of a brilliant but mercurial mind at work, all consider his complicated legacy while also uncovering deep and often unsettling truths about their own lives. In this stunning, elliptical novel, Louisa Hall has crafted a breathtaking and explosive story about the ability of the human mind to believe what it wants, about public and private tragedy, and about power and guilt. Blending science with literature and fiction with biography, Trinity asks searing questions about what it means to truly know someone, and about the secrets we keep from the world and from ourselves"-- Provided by publisher.

"From the acclaimed author of Speak comes a kaleidoscopic novel about Robert Oppenheimer--father of the atomic bomb--as told by seven fictional characters"-- Provided by publisher.
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Summary

Summary

From the acclaimed author of Speak comes a kaleidoscopic novel about Robert Oppenheimer--father of the atomic bomb--as told by seven fictional characters

J. Robert Oppenheimer was a brilliant scientist, a champion of liberal causes, and a complex and often contradictory character. He loyally protected his Communist friends, only to later betray them under questioning. He repeatedly lied about love affairs. And he defended the use of the atomic bomb he helped create, before ultimately lobbying against nuclear proliferation.

Through narratives that cross time and space, a set of characters bears witness to the life of Oppenheimer, from a secret service agent who tailed him in San Francisco, to the young lover of a colleague in Los Alamos, to a woman fleeing McCarthyism who knew him on St. John. As these men and women fall into the orbit of a brilliant but mercurial mind at work, all consider his complicated legacy while also uncovering deep and often unsettling truths about their own lives.

In this stunning, elliptical novel, Louisa Hall has crafted a breathtaking and explosive story about the ability of the human mind to believe what it wants, about public and private tragedy, and about power and guilt. Blending science with literature and fiction with biography, Trinity asks searing questions about what it means to truly know someone, and about the secrets we keep from the world and from ourselves.


Author Notes

Louisa Hall is an American novelist and poet. She was born in 1982, and raised in Philadelphia. After graduating from Harvard with a BA in English, she played squash professionally and worked in a research lab at the Albert Einstein Hospital. She holds a PhD in Literature from the University of Texas at Austin, where she currently teaches literature and creative writing, and supervises a poetry workshop at the Austin Psychiatric Hospital.

Hall is the author of the novels Speak and The Carriage House, and her poems have been published in The New Republic, Southwest Review, and other journals.


Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Hall's ingeniously structured novel is a fictionalized biographical portrait of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the controversial director of the Manhattan Project, as witnessed by seven individuals who came in contact with him at different points in his life: a conflicted army intelligence agent, a romantically beset Women's Army Corps member at Los Alamos, an old academic friend with a faulty memory, a married Princeton secretary suffering from an eating disorder, a closeted lesbian neighbor on the island of St. John, an impressionable New England prep school student, and a female journalist recovering from a broken marriage. Through their eyes, readers see Oppenheimer sneak a tryst in San Francisco in 1943, count down to the day of the Trinity Test, protest the development of the hydrogen bomb during the Red Scare, and try to repair his reputation after his security clearance is revoked. Hovering in the background of all these stories is Jean Tatlock, his Communist lover, who committed suicide in 1944 and whose ghost seems to haunt Oppenheimer's every move. Hall (Speak) excels at creating distinct characters whose voices illuminate their own lives and challenges, as well as the historical period that saw Oppenheimer's fall from grace. Taken together, they only burnish the endlessly fascinating enigma of the flawed genius who became known as the father of the atomic bomb. (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Booklist Review

Most think of Robert Oppenheimer solely as the father of the atom bomb. Hall's (Speak , 2015) literary novel attempts to elucidate this multifaceted man more fully. Hall alternates short, third-person vignettes from the day of the first detonation of a nuclear device, the Trinity test, and seven longer testimonials, first-person chapters told by various people who knew Oppenheimer from the 1940s to the 1960s. This book is as much about those narrators a troubled young wife, a former academic from Berkley, a secret service agent as it is about Oppenheimer. These individuals are complex. Most are damaged in some way, Oppenheimer included, and some teeter on the edge of sanity. With war, McCarthyism, and nuclear proliferation as backdrop, Hall's observers paint a picture of not just one man but of humanity. What are the secrets we keep? What price will we pay to keep them? Can anyone truly know another human being? Each narrator has a unique and convincing voice in this compelling novel centered on the man who saw himself as ""Death, the destroyer of worlds.""--Bethany Latham Copyright 2018 Booklist


New York Review of Books Review

"THEN THE EARTH under our feet lurched toward the mountains, and the mountains tilted a foot to the right, and the trees leaped offthe sides of the mountains." This is how, in Louisa Hall's brilliant third novel, a young member of the Women's Army Corps working at Los Alamos remembers the test of the first nuclear weapon, code-named "Trinity," on July 16, 1945. A vivid image of dislocation isn't unexpected in a work about the physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, often called "the father of the atomic bomb." What is unexpected is the use Hall makes of that image - and of Oppenheimer's entire public life. Rather than resorting to the familiar tricks of biography-lite - dramatizing tired anecdotes, larding the narrative with undigested research about particle physics and Oppenheimer's persecution during the McCarthy era - Hall has shaped a richly imagined, tremendously moving fictional work. Its genius is not to explain but to embody the science and politics that shaped Oppenheimer's life. In brief italicized passages separating seven major sections, an unspecified, interestingly reticent narrator offers glimpses of Oppenheimer just before the test. How long does he inspect "the device"? This narrator, who pretends to know only the kind of evidence available to a biographer, won't say. "I can't find any record. I know, however, from photographs, that he's wearing his porkpie hat." The hours tick by; it rains, and then stops - glimpse, glimpse, glimpse. By the last of these passages, he and his companions "lie facedown in a trench, to protect their eyes from the bomb flash," unaware that, a few hundred yards from the tower, antelope are crossing the desert. There's a lot Oppenheimer doesn't see, and a lot we don't see. Except for these passages, everything we'll learn about him arrives obliquely and in fragments, stories told to that invisible narrator by seven invented characters. Ranging from an Army intelligence officer tailing Oppenheimer in 1943, to a journalist assigned to write a last profile of the dying physicist in 1966, these characters are insinuated into the world of Oppenheimer's real-life friends, family and colleagues, playing roles (secretary, old friend, curious neighbor) similar to their historical analogues. This is not in itself an unusual strategy: Think of all the historical fiction involving the great man's butler, the queen's housekeeper, the overlooked minor bystander speaking at last. But these figures seem designed, in a way I haven't seen before, to mirror the ambiguous tensions of Oppenheimer's personality. They lie, as Oppenheimer famously did during the many investigations preceding his horrifying 1954 security hearing. They have secrets, as Oppenheimer did, and are deeply conflicted about the necessity of keeping them. Betrayed by others, they betray in turn, forever tunneling back through the past, seeking the meaning of their acts. Their visions are limited, their understanding skewed by desire and fear. When Grace Goodman - that WAC member at Los Alamos, in 1945 - reports on the Trinity test, it's a minor part of her anguished narrative, secondary to the end of her love affair with a married scientist. Her view of the explosion comes not from a trench, but from "our little Shangri-la on the mesa," more than 200 miles away, where she waits with other workers kept in the dark. She remembers falling in love, losing her lover, being coerced into an abortion. A light fills the sky; the mountains seem to tilt. Or do they? Just a few weeks later, "all I could really imagine were the mountains shifting two feet to the left." One foot, or two feet? Right, or left? Grace, in common with many of these speakers, can't get her story straight. She can't escape her earlier choices, or her need to re-examine them. Each character's section offers a partial view that builds by the repetition of a handful of images - Oppenheimer's porkpie hat and his silver lighter; dogs and turtles, photographs and eyes; a John Donne poem - and crucial remarks about three real-life characters whose relationships with Oppenheimer were used to implicate him in 1954. Involved to varying degrees in leftist causes, these three were, like Oppenheimer, accused of being either communists or communist sympathizers. One in particular, Jean Tatlock, haunts the novel; characters offer multiple versions of her affair with Oppenheimer and her suicide. An invented secretary, Sally Connelly, to whom Oppenheimer dictates an autobiography shortly before his security hearing, reports that "all his secrets came out, even the story about Jean, and all the lurid details about that trip to visit her." Still, Oppenheimer's deepest secrets would remain as hidden as anyone else's, if Hall relied only on biographical data. What shocks us into a new understanding of this complex and secretive soul are his psychological ties to the invented main characters. Hall uses them to perform seven thought experiments, as if Oppenheimer, like a subatomic particle, could be revealed only indirectly, through his collisions with others. As if, as one character reports him saying, "any given entity can only be defined as a function of its observer." The resulting quantum portrait feels both true and dazzlingly unfamiliar. ANDREA BARRETT is the author of several novels and stories about scientists, most recently "Archangel."


Library Journal Review

Robert Oppenheimer, creator of the atomic bomb, put science front and center in his life, though he was conflicted about other things-his Communist friends, his love life, and the testing and use of atomic bombs in general. Hall (Speak) begins with a prolog from the FBI agent assigned to follow him in the days before the testing of the first atomic bomb, followed by testimonials from seven different narrators reflecting on what they knew of Oppenheimer at different times in his life. The narrators all reveal something of their own lives while chronicling their relationship with Oppenheimer. Using real events to frame the narrative, Hall creates visceral vignettes using science, history, and biography to create three-dimensional characters pouring forth their own stories. An anorexic secretary, a reporter suffering from a marital breakup, a colleague's lover, and a Communist expatriate friend in Paris are some of the people providing the brushstrokes resulting in a brilliant canvas revealing life's complexities and the enigmatic character who inspired the narrative. VERDICT Readers who enjoy fiction concerning real people and general readers of fiction will enjoy this book. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 4/9/18.]-Joanna Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Libs., Providence © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.