two-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
19-Nov-Dec-2005
user_rating: 
0

A-AtomicRomanceReed Futrell, divorced with two grown kids, works as a maintenance engineer at a uranium enrichment plant, the major industry in his Kentucky town. Like grandfather, like father, like son: the difference is, his father died in a chemical accident at the plant when Reed was just a boy. When rumors of plutonium contamination circulate through the nuclear facility, Reed starts to evaluate the risks of his job. What is the company hiding from its workers? Fights with his intelligent girlfriend, Julia, about his occupational hazards compound his doubts. Can Reed get his job and his romance right—and if so, at what cost?
Random House. 288 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0375507191

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"[T]he writing is so clean, the main character so thoroughly nuanced and the situation explored in such a thoughtful way that An Atomic Romance avoids any danger of cliché and simply rests on its own smartly told tale. . . . Set in heartland America, the novel by the author of In Country draws the contrast between the vast, often hidden forces being unleashed by nuclear power and the smallness of man." Amy Driscoll

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Mason has the uncanny ability, possessed by a few virtuoso novelists, to create the layers and textures of her characters’ world—shadowed by mechanical power and nuclear threat, populated by characters like Reed’s best friend Burl, an apparent redneck who defies the stereotype. . . . We need to be reminded that people are so dauntingly and delightfully complex." Mary Ann Gwinn

San Francisco Chronicle 2.5 of 5 Stars
"An Atomic Romance, for all its modern trappings, boils down to a standard boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl affair. . . . But it’s as if reading a book in the glow of the first lightbulb powered by nuclear energy—take away the nuclear novelty and the illumination is nothing special." Reagan Upshaw

Boston Globe 2 of 5 Stars
"It’s a mash note to romance and good-old-boy struggles of conscience, set within the eerie glow of a nuclear fuel enrichment plant—sort of a post-atomic love story played out to the tunes of the Bee Gees. . . . When she stops putting hokey dialogue into her characters’ mouths and writes about the skies or the people who gave up their lives for the plant, she finds the stunning sorrow at the heart of this story." Gail Caldwell

Hartford Courant 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Though assiduously researched and packed with scientific detail and the occasional wonderful scene, An Atomic Romance never quite takes off. . . . Events unfold in such short takes that the reader doesn’t have time to get involved in what’s going on." Kit Reed

San Diego Union-Tribune 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Reed is meant to be a winsome atomic cowboy, a thinking man’s Everyman, but his charm soon wears thin. . . . While the will-they-or-won’t-they plot keeps one turning the pages, ultimately An Atomic Romance fizzles." Scott Leibs

Critical Summary

In her first novel in a decade, Mason examines the joys and sorrows of life in an atomic Heartland town. It seems, however, that a decade-long break hasn’t done Mason any favors. While a few critics called the novel wholly original, many felt it courted every cliché in the book—hackneyed romance, science versus ethics, corporate greed, etc. These themes would resound on deeper emotional and political levels if the characters or story was uniformly convincing. But Reed and Julia often come off as caricatures (though critics consistently praised Burl, Reed’s drunk "prayer warrior"), and the novel’s tone seesaws between playful and overly serious (though Mason does get the science right).

Also by the Author

In Country (1985): This is a coming-of-age novel for adults and young adults alike. The effects of Vietnam linger on in 17-year-old Sam Hughes’s small town of Hopewell, Kentucky. Her father was killed in Vietnam, and the uncle with whom she lives is suffering from contact with Agent Orange. Reading her father’s diary and traveling to the Vietnam Memorial help bring Sam some peace.