three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
23-July-Aug-2006
user_rating: 
0

A-ChallengerParkHusband and wife Brian and Lucy Kincheloe, both astronauts, are faltering under the burden of domestic duties, a sick child, and the demands of space travel. Their troubled marriage has made Brian withdraw, leaving Lucy longing for something more. As the novel opens, Brian completes his second mission at the same time that Lucy gets her first opportunity to reach the final frontier. In the months of training leading up to her launch, she finds herself increasingly attracted to her flight trainer, a quiet widower still mourning his wife.
Knopf. 416 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0375412050

NY Times Book Review 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Challenger Park turns out to be a fine, absorbing achievement, probably the best science-factual novel about the space-faring worlds of Houston and Cape Canaveral in the nearly half-century since the first astronauts were chosen. … This is a stately novel whose emotional precision is matched by the exactitude of its prose." Thomas Mallon

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"[T]his novel’s quirky setting only makes it that much more enjoyable. And Harrigan’s occasional reflections on the nature of men and women … make for some thoughtful, well-written storytelling." Dorman T. Shindler

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The setting may be out of this world, but Challenger Park is really a rather old-fashioned feminist story about a smart, ambitious woman torn between her career and her family." Ron Charles

Miami Herald 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Harrigan spends long passages on the intricacies of the space program, which sometimes bog down the narrative, but the relationships—especially between Lucy and her husband—ring fiercely true." Amy Driscoll

Fort Worth Star-Telegram 3 of 5 Stars
"Harrigan makes his all-too-human characters—caring, needy, shortsighted, world-weary, salty-tongued—sympathetic without hiding the personal abysses into which they are drifting, and that is no small accomplishment." Alan Cochrum

Baltimore Sun 2.5 of 5 Stars
"[T]he hermetically sealed world of the NASA astronauts and their trainers is a blandosphere of geekspeak, acronyms, monotonous routines, and extremely careful people. After work, it doesn’t get much better." Dan Fesperman

Critical Summary

Its first sentence, which puts our heroine at the intersection of NASA Road One and Space Center Boulevard, clearly shows the novel’s attention to the minutiae of astronaut life. Reviewers opined differently about the obsessive NASA details; some felt the jargon slowed down what is a very internal narrative about Lucy’s struggle to balance career with family—a timeless battle, surely, and one the author handles with admirable delicacy. Lucy’s nail-biting propulsion into space is a page-turner, but her extramarital dalliance develops slowly—and comes across as very decent. Which is mostly commendable. Writes the New York Times Book Review: "The two dutiful, abashed and guilty people he’s created strike me as the most refreshing literary lovers in a long, overheated time."