I had high hopes for this book and yet was oddly not compelled or captivated by the story line. I struggled to finish it and had I not added it as a selection for my 2016 challenge, I don’t know that I would have finished. Is something wrong with me?
Some of my favorite books are by Dan Simmons: Hyperion, Fall of Hyperion, Terror: A Novel, Drood. Each of these was a lyrical, gripping novel, either with a historical setting or pure fantasy/sci-fi, but all demonstrating Simmons ability to draw his reader in with beautiful words, unpredictable plots, fascinating characters and deftly capturing the vast reaches of human nature.
So why did Phases of Gravity feel flat to me? I grabbed this off the library shelf based on my love of the author’s other titles and because of the (misleading?) inside jacket summary: “Phases of Gravity is a novel about the power of dreams and the possibility of second chances, about journeys remembered and newly undertaken.” OK, I get all of that and could write a literary paper pulling out segments that fit each of those pieces but overall…I’m disappointed. Unmoved. Puzzled.
Comprised of constant, sometimes disjointed, flashbacks, this novel centers around Richard Baedecker, former NASA astronaut who walked on the moon. 16 years after his moon walk, Richard (or Dick as he is commonly referred to in the book) is struggling to understand his place in the universe. His marriage has ended, and he has no real relationship with his son, Scott. In an attempt to reconnect, he travels to India where Scott has joined up with guru on his farm for meditation, cleansing and answer searching. While in India, he meets Maggie Brown, also in the area to see Scott. Richard and Maggie end up spending time together touring the area and Richard is intrigued by this young, self-possessed woman talking about “places of power” and the effect they can have on a person. Eventually, later in the book, they start a relationship that is short-lived and predictable from page one of her entry.
Along the chapters, Richard encounters the other members of the space mission team: one found God and started a successful church; another, Dave, became a politician, writer, soon-to-be father himself and is battling cancer When Dave dies in a plane crash where he was pilot and only crew member, his widow ask Richard to investigate how this happened and why Dave was heading for his apparent destination at the time of the crash with the unspoken question being did he commit suicide. What ensues next is soul searching by Richard of when does one full experience a moment of happiness in this mortal life?
The book ends with Richard finding his way and peace with himself. He repairs his relationship with his son after a daring (and random) visit by helicopter to the new farm in Oregon his master from India relocated to, decides to honor Dave’s pre-death request to help him finish the book he had started and seeks out Maggie, whom he loves, to try and rekindle their relationship. The books ends with Richard having a transcendental moment up on a mountain in a “place of power” with Maggie calling his name.
Perhaps what really caused the disconnect with me for this book is that it felt cliche; a recycled male mid-life crisis plot so-to-speak. Older man searching for himself by journey to a foreign country and then across the US, quits his job, hooks up with a hot, young but precocious and deep woman, suffers the loss of a close friend triggering subsequent questions of one’s own mortality, etc, etc. I can understand how having once walked on the moon, the pull of Earth’s gravity would pale in comparison to the experience but overall I felt this novel was both trying to hard to instill deeper messaging into it’s pages and yet was overall unimaginative in the effort.
While reviews of this books span the board, it is with a disappointed frowny face and hope for the next Dan Simmons book I read, that I return Phases of Gravity to the library.