MELINDA MATTOS ROCKET SCIENCE by Julia Gaunce (Pedlar), 168 pages, $21.95 paper. Rating: NNNHuman touch
mr. wicker fantasizes about us-ing his custodial prowess to help an attractive restaurant server. Mrs. Wicker yearns to be an astronaut but takes leatherwork classes instead. Their daughter, Vicki, a precocious child of indeterminate age, regularly destroys state-of-the-art frying pans with her mysterious experiments. Her grandmother, Peach, just wishes there weren't so many damn bathing suits in the bathroom. If you're looking for adventure or major revelations, don't read Rocket Science.
Julia Gaunce's first novel is a leisurely stroll through the everyday thoughts of the Wicker family and is not plot-driven at all.
Sometimes the banal can be beautiful, and Gaunce does a nice job of bringing the Wickers' oh-so-human idiosyncrasies into focus. Because it's told by an omniscient narrator, the Wickers' inner workings are audible throughout the book. And Peach's slips of the tongue -- her feelings about the church hymen (for sermon) and about Shakespeare's cross-eyed lovers -- are particularly notable.
Gaunce has a penchant for clever wordplay. I couldn't help but laugh when Mrs. Wicker wonders if the temporary wooden stage she stands upon is just a phase.
Unfortunately, the novel lacks cohesion. I had my first taste of Rocket Science in the summer, when one chapter ran as a short story in This Magazine, and in that context Gaunce's minimalism worked. As a novel, though, it's missing something.
The chapters are more like independent vignettes than parts of a connected story.
There's no unifying plot to speak of, nor any sense of real character development. We get interesting snapshots of the Wickers, but no depth. And the climax gets no buildup.
It's by no means a bad read. But rocket science? I'm not so sure.