Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Big Bang Symphony by Lucy Jane Bledsoe

Publisher:                   University of Wisconsin Press

If you are trying to find yourself, what better place is there than Antarctica?  All you see in any direction is a whole continent of ice, nothing to distract you.  Or is there?

The Big Bang Symphony is set at McMurdo Station, the major base at the South Pole, and the surrounding out camps where there is more going on than most people would suspect.  People come and go seeking high paying jobs, adventure, or spiritual purification.  Some are seeking all three.  Into this environment come Rosie Moore, Mikala Wilbo and Alice Neilson.  Rosie is the veteran, having spent previous seasons working on the station as a cook.  Her interest is in making enough money to finally buy a ranch in Montana and then getting out without any entangling relationships.  What you get is often not what you want.  Mikala is running from and to something.  A recognized musical genius, she wants to escape the memory of the lover she lost and find the father she never knew, while creating a symphonic representation of the Big Bang.  Alice is looking for a life.  She can have an illustrious career in geology if she can just get away from her mother.  To Alice, who has never been away from home before, starting with a trip to Antarctica seems logical, but how to deal with her emotions is totally beyond her.  As each one stumbles through her life at the station, she finds an answer, just not the one for which she was looking.

Bledsoe uses the South Pole as a metaphor for the search that each person goes on to find meaning in a life.  The ice desert is beautiful and frightening and magnetic.  It also provides a sterile environment for the characters to work in, one where they can pare their lives down to the bare minimum and see what is important. That is almost as frightening as the dangerous potential of the ice.  This isn't an easy book to read.  The environment is vast and the characters seem to wander all over it.  It may take the reader a while to see where each of these women is heading and there's no real romance, mystery or adventure to sweeten the journey.

The Big Bang Symphony was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, though it didn't win the ultimate prize.  The reason may be that it's not a "typical" lesbian novel.  One of the characters is a lesbian, but that plays little part in her story.  Readers are going to have to be willing to work a little harder for this story and stretch their minds further than usual, but the journey is worth it.  Outstanding writing always is.

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