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Reentry to Real Life, or: How to Bring Bits of Vacation into Everyday Existence

Book Review: The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

"Solid is not true. She would say her marriage is solid, but only because the words people use to indicate happiness are so unnuanced. Not that her marriage is fragile; it's more that her marriage might be only a solid surface, with nothing inside it."

"It's another reason why you had to be so careful with grief. It was like an impact crater, its surface always larger than the thing that created it."

"These people here, she instructs herself, are people who were once alive and now they are dead. She finds she can take it in. The knowledge, the sadness, is another layer to the atmosphere of her own particular planet, already thickly coated."

"So many things in life just happen...these are quiet events, so unbelievably quiet, you could miss them...Maybe your husband never loved you, maybe your daughter will never comprehend your love. Maybe you have always been alone...But these are the things that you will walk upright with, must wear with no more ceremony than you would a sweater."

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey is a difficult book for me to review. I mean, look at all these pieces I wanted to save:

Wanderers close
Clearly there was something in this novel that resonated with me. It tells the story of three astronauts, Helen, Yoshi, and Sergei, who are chosen by a corporation called Prime to undergo a simulation of a trip to Mars. The story is told in each of these characters' points of view, as well as Helen's daughter, Yoshi's wife, and Sergei's son.

So, the scientists are chosen. They enter the space simulation vehicle, which is stationed in a desert in Utah to closely match the Martian environment. There is a lot of press covering the story, and meetings and farewells with family members before the simulation starts. It begins, and for 18 months they pretend they are on a space flight to mars. This is pretending that is highly integrated with technology, of course, with problems on the machine to fix, and a disappearing view of the earth, and Mars walks via virtual reality.

Wanderers meg howreyOr maybe, Yoshi begins to suspect, they actually did go to Mars.

The characters who remain here on earth make adjustments. I was particularly fond of Madoka, Yoshi's wife, who is deeply questioning her marriage and facing the reality that her husband, who thinks he loves her, doesn't really know her at all.

But because the story is about characters pretending to have an adventure (or being tricked into pretending they are having an adventure while actually having an adventure), nothing really happens.

It took me almost a month to finish this book. I kept putting it down because not much was happening, but I would pick it back up because I really? wanted to know what happened to the characters. The characters were amazing, fully constructed, and so many of their emotional troubles spoke to things I have also struggled with.

But still: not much happens. 

In the end, what reading The Wanderers made me think about is the act of reading itself. It is sort of like the simulated Mars journey: the author asks us to pretend with him or her that what is happening is real. The success of the illusion rests on the author's craft and the reader's willingness to invest herself in what everyone knows is pretending, is a journey you are taking without ever leaving your couch. All of the astronauts question if the simulation will be helpful to the actual flight, and reading is the same: does it help you in your actual life? For me, the answer has always been (and will, I imagine, always be) yes. There are still things to be learned and ways of experiencing the world through books, even if it is a simulation.

So I loved so much about this book, but I still wanted more. I didn't feel like there was an emotional payoff at the end. I'm glad I read it, and clearly I am interested this year in woman-based science fiction, but I'm not sure I could recommend it to many other readers.

Comments

Margot

Clearly the writing is good (so many markers!). I'll see if we have it & might give it a go.

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