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September 17, 2020

Universe of Two by Stephen P. Kiernan ~ a Review

by Susan Roberts

"I first met Charlie Fish in Chicago in the fall of 1943.  First I dismissed him, then I liked him, then I ruined him, then I saved him.  In return he taught me what love was, lust, too, and above all what it is like to have a powerful conscience. (p 1)

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Universe of Two
August 2020; William Morrow; 978-0062878441
audio, ebook, print (448 pages); historical fiction

I have read all of Stephen Kiernan's books so I knew I was going to enjoy Universe of Two before I turned the first page.  What I didn't realize was how deeply the book would affect me and that I'd still be thinking about it a week after I finished it.  This is a beautifully written book about love and guilt and redemption.

The year is 1943 and Charlie meets Brenda when he comes into the music store that her mother owns and she works at.  At first, she didn't think much of him.  She was more interested in all of the soldiers on leave who wanted to dance and pay attention to her.  Charlie wasn't very impressive when he first asked Brenda to play a song for him on the organ but as he kept coming into the store, she found herself looking forward to his visits.  Charlie was a Harvard graduate, a brilliant mathematician, and working for the government on the Manhattan Project.  He had no idea exactly what he was working on and only knew his small part of the entire project with the rest being kept in secret.  When he is sent to Los Alamos, he and Brenda plan to write to each other but that was a poor substitute for being together so she joined him in New Mexico.  Again, Charlie knew that he was working on a project for the government but had no idea that they were creating the first atomic bomb.  He only knew that he was creating a detonator.  Once he realized what the project was all about, he wanted to quit when he understood the possible devastation of this bomb.  Once the bombs strike Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the feelings of culpability devastate him and Brenda.   When the war is over,  the government agrees to pay for him to go to Stanford to get his doctorate but he finds everyone excited about the possibilities of atomic energy and realizes that he doesn't want to be part of it.  No one seems to be concerned with the possible long term effects of an atomic bomb.   He quits school and he and Brenda look for a career that will bring joy into the world and help to ease the guilt he feels over his part in building the atomic bomb.  

Be sure to read the Acknowledgements to read about the actual person that Charlie Fish is based on and about the life he lived.  It made the story even more impressive for me.

Charlie says to Brenda on their honeymoon:
"The thing I like best with you is how the world goes away.  My work, the war, everything becomes small and distant.  All I can think about is you and what we are doing and how fantastic it feels.  It's like we are on an island."
Brenda's reply:  "Yes.  A universe of two."

The writing in this book is exquisite and the characters are multi-dimensional - the reader sees the good and the bad in the two main characters.  My prediction is that this will be a very popular summer  2020  novel.  I already know that it will be in my top 10 books for the year.

"Some deeds are like tattoos and the ink of regret is permanent." (p 1)

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Susan Roberts lives in North Carolina with her husband of over 50 years.  She grew up in Michigan but now calls North Carolina home. Since her travel plans had to be canceled for this year, she is starting to make plans for travel in 2021. She reads almost anything (and the piles of books in her house prove that) but her favorite genres are Southern fiction, women's fiction, and historical fiction. Susan is a top 1% Goodreads Reviewer. You can connect with Susan on FacebookGoodreads, or Twitter

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