Because Louis B. Jones is soon to be the key-note speaker at the first ever Sierra Writers Conference, to be jointly sponsored by Sierra College and Sierra Writers on January 3, 2016, I have discovered what pleasure can come from "slow reads." (Perhaps some day I shall blog on the value of writing that is deemed "fast-paced.")
Radiance (published in 2011) begins disarmingly with a familiar scene. A San Francisco parent (Mark) accompanies a teenager to an (expensive) Fantasy Celebrity Vacation in Los Angeles, enabled by a recent inheritance and prompted by the discovery that his daughter (Lotta) had started shopping among senior high schools in Connecticut. She plots to leave us. But barely has the "Fasten Your Seat-belts" sign been turned off than we find ourselves in deep, heavy territory.
Mortality, late-term abortion, and the quality of life are the weighty considerations homing in like predator drones at the reader almost from the beginning of Radiance. "Death abides always there in constant contact ... in the Periodic Tables of Elements' basic, cool powders and metals and crystals and colorless odors, while the sensation of 'life' is merely the rarest, briefest tingle through all the galaxies' endless tonnage."
The turmoil faced by the parents who eventually decided on the late term abortion is hinted at by the abandonment of her vocation as a corporate lawyer by the perfect wife who then dons the hair-shirt of a middle-aged mom apprenticed as a carpenter, driving herself into exhaustion working with Habitat for Humanity. Atonement by heavy labor without lunch breaks. The sonograms had revealed a "hydro-cephalic condition," the fetus appeared "cretinous-looking." Teenage daughter, whose "ethical equipment was somewhat simplistic," initially declared for termination, asserting a woman's right to choose and the prospect of a short and unhappy life for what would become her brother. Within a month she had changed her mind.
Then she met Brodie.
He was a senior, a "paraplegic boy drummer" at the Fantasy weekend who had learned "to extract his rewards from the world by asserting intellectual dominance." His own condition was a "defect from birth" and "now he's got the grateful-to-be-alive gospel." Teenage daughter reports that hedeclares the lost life would have been "the same as ours in terms of absolute value." Father dreads the inevitable conversation, the impending battle "with those innocent certainties."
Somewhere between the Hollywood sign (Los Angeles continued to look, to this northern Californian, "like local news crime scene footage") and the Santa Monica Police Precinct (it has wheel-chair access), and while enduring in the holding cell "the 120-volt clang of its inner electromagnets" and the old metal bars "painted the old Wrigley's Doublemint green," Mark concludes, "the truth is, a physicist and a lawyer are worth more than a paralyzed, retarded, blind baby. [Otherwise] the evening sound of dishes is as great as the Milky Way or the sensation of cotton fabric is as profound as the Seven Wonders of the World."
Brodie persists in asking "What is everything made of these days, ... below atoms and quarks and super strings?" Mark wonders whether "it would be odd if inquiring into his ideas as a physicist should seem more insolent than kissing his daughter." But he affirms that "two plus two would eternally equal four ... even in the emptiness before the beginning of time.... The principle alone furnished the radiance to have made matter originally bead up out of nothing."