Shelved for a few years after commercial publishers deemed her characters “too dark,” “Everyone’s Pretty” was finally released this past February, paving the way for the publication of Millet’s atomic opus, “Oh Pure and Radiant Heart.”
“I’ve been obsessed with nukes since I was 12 and marched in a protest against cruise-missile testing in Canada,” Millet says. “I grew up in the ’80s, when the pressure of the bomb was really much more overt than it is now.” “Oh Pure and Radiant Heart” follows a New Mexico couple – Ann, a librarian, and Ben, a gardener – as their routine lives are changed by the sudden and inexplicable presence of the trio of scientists who fathered the atom bomb: Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard.
The men had been transported decades into the future at the moment of the first atomic flash. Ann’s instant connection to the classically elegant Oppenheimer is desperate and familial – she seems to want to protect him as much as she wants him to protect her. Ben senses this need and acquiesces when his wife decides they need to accompany the scientists on a pilgrimage to see the devastation wrought by their invention. The scientists embark on a quest for nuclear disarmament with the help of some pot-smoking hippies and, later, a band of machine gun-toting, apocalypse-loving Christian fundamentalists.
Alongside the tale of the scientists, Millet details the truths and boundaries of Ann and Ben’s relationship. Millet binds the reader as closely to the nearly figmentary scientists as to the flesh-and-blood Ann and Ben. “In the end, the scientists were all brilliant and had good intentions – most were working to stop the Nazis, and never had any interest in the Pacific. They worked hard and invented the most destructive thing ever. It is tragic, and sadly perfect.”
I’m partial to the book reviews in Entertainment Weekly, because I like my literary crit written for people who don’t read enough books, not written for other literary critics. So when they were simultaneously impressed and weirded out by this book I picked it up.
I love Millet’s style, snippets and flashes, counting on you to pick up the thread and carry it through to the next chapter, the next thought, the next absolutely absurd scenario. It shouldn’t make sense, a bunch of resurrected scientists reading their own biographies in the library. But it does, in the way nothing makes sense, and we’re all just holding on to what we have until we find the thing that makes us let that all go.