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The Infinite Tides by Christian Kiefer
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The Infinite Tides (edition 2012)

by Christian Kiefer

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517229,653 (4.05)1
Member:HCBownsLibrary
Title:The Infinite Tides
Authors:Christian Kiefer
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Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:literature, fiction, sacramento, california, northern california, astronaut, astronomy, psychology, friends, bromance, family, tragedy, buddhism

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The Infinite Tides by Christian Kiefer

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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
In this novel, Kiefer has created a moving story about a mathematical genius, Keith Corcoran, who manages to fulfill his life mission of being an astronaut. The only problem is that when his teenaged daughter dies in a car accident while he's on an international space station, and his wife leaves him, he is left to deal with the consequences of the isolation he always sought out. Keith is a fascinating character. He feels more connected to numbers - which he sees in colors and treats as if they have their own corporeal existence - than he does to people. He discovered early on that his daughter shares his gift, but when she becomes more interested in a regular life - dating boys and participating in cheerleading - he's disappointed with her.

After her death, he has to come back to earth and deal with his regret that his monomaniacal pursuit of his career goals took him away from his family for so many long stretches that he lost all connection to them . The house he moves back into - completely emptied of all furnishings when his wife left him with the request that he sell it - becomes a metaphor for just how empty and hollowed out his life has become. As sad as all this sounds, it's not a depressing book to read because Kiefer does a good job of getting inside Keith's head and showing how he perceives the world.

Be prepared when you read this, however, that there is a lot of lyrical writing, with very abstract language, that conveys Keith's mode of thinking. The first 40 pages alone are full of that language - as we get long descriptions of the best moment of Keith life's - when he's on a spacewalk outside the space station, installing a robotic arm that he, as an engineer, designed. It's moving and poetic - but it also takes a long while to get the main gist of the story - dealing with the aftermath of his daughter's death.

While I liked the novel very much, that was my one quibble with it - that it went down some tangential paths that aren't as compelling as the ones that flesh out the main premise of the book. I don't think it's fair to quarrel with how a writer chooses to fill out a story (but of course I will anyway) but in this case I was disappointed that he didn't deliver more background details about Keith's relationship with his daughter and his wife, and what his feelings might have been while he was locked up in the space station, unable to return to earth, until 3 months after his daughter died.

We get some of that, and when we do, they are the most powerful sections of the book - particularly the flashbacks of Keith discovering, when his daughter is very young, that she has inherited his mathematical genius and then later, during her teenaged years, when he tells her how disappointed he is that she close to lead the normal life of a teenager and not do more with her gift. With his wife, there is just a brief scene about how they met and then just brief and shrill phone conversations.

What we get a instead are a few, albeit very hot and sexy, scenes from the affair he starts with the neigbhor, and then many scenes about the friendship he strucks up with a Ukrainian immigrant he meets at a Starbucks who used to work at a Russian astronomical observatory, but who since coming to America has been underemployed as a stockboy at a Target.

Ultimately, that friendship becomes an important part of the story but for the early scenes when he keeps running into the Ukranian at a Starbucks and then rescues him when after he's passed out drunk there to the many scenes when they sit in an empty lot next to the astronauts' house watching the stars, it feels like a good chunk of the novel isn't living up to the premise the author set up.

While finding some of these sections a little slow and tedious, I couldn't help but compare it in my mind to another tale about the loss of a child told from the father's perspective that I read this summer. In the novel You Came Back by Christopher Coake, we start with a father who has just started to remake his life seven years after his son died, falling down stairs at home -- an event that led to the dissolution of his marriage. Just when he becomes engaged to the new woman in his life, a woman who bought his old house seeks him out to tell him his son's ghost in in the house, calling out to him. If you played the Stephen King game (suggested in his book on writing) of "What if" a character had to deal with this scenario, Coake delivers masterfully on every aspect you'd expect a man to have to deal with in that situation -- disbelief, anger, then a desperate wish to believe it's true, and then a a reconnection to his ex-wife when she hears the news.

In this novel about Keith's loss, I wanted to know so much more about his daughter, his relationship with his wife, and the three months he spent stuck up in the space station after she died, because conditions wouldn't let him return any sooner. By the end of the novel, though, the relationship with the Ukranian that didn't initially seem as consequential or relevant as any of those matters does play an important role in Keith's "re-entry" into life on earth. And admittedly, many of the details and story elements Kiefer choose to include fit with a man who lived so much in his head and had trouble connecting with people. Coming back to earth, Keith is forced to forge relationships -- he wants to do nothing but get back to work and lose himself into his career responsibilities, but NASA won't let him until it's obvious he's dealt with his grief and its main physical manifestation, severe migraines. The relationship with his Ukranian friend proves very important and in the last quarter of the book, their connection plays out in interesting ways. In the end, while I may not have been riveted to every single page, I still enjoyed the entire experience because the novel tells a powerful story about how one man deals with tragedy and begins to rebuild his life from the ashes of it. ( )
  johnluiz | Aug 6, 2013 |
An astounding debut novel. Brilliant. ( )
  KatieANYC | Apr 2, 2013 |
[The Infinite Tides] is a debut novel by [[Christian Kiefer]], a poet, slongwriter and recording artist who teaches English at American River College in Sacramento. [The Infinite Tides] is the story of Keith Corcoran, a brilliant mathematician who has spent his entire life moving toward the goal of being an astronaut. While on his first mission aboard the International Space Station his daughter dies and his wife leaves him. The bulk of the book moves between providing back-story to these events and following him as he tries to move forward in his life, dealing with the loss and coming to terms with himself. Corcoran is a compelling character and I found myself caring very much what happened to him. It's a powerful story and well worth reading. ( )
  RebaRelishesReading | Dec 16, 2012 |
A profound debut novel illuminating the complexity and beauty of human experience, The Infinite Tides captures heartbreaking tragedy and transforms it into growth via the protagonist, Keith Corcoran. An astronaut, husband and father whose life changes overnight, Keith learns through tribulation to become a friend (in the deepest sense of that word) and to shift his values from the surface of culture to those which are most meaningful, in a world that has wrenched away that which he previously took for granted.

Subtlety, depth and refreshing intelligence are blended with humor and a most endearing hero you cannot help but love by the end of the book.

A final note- this is a book you can trust with your heart. It will not leave you hopeless in the end, and many writers could learn from Kiefer to avoid "Disney" endings, while not driving their readers into brick walls of despair. I have probably never encountered such an eloquent explication of the experience of psychological, spiritual and emotional trauma, of depression and hopelessness (though William Styron's work comes to mind), of the seemingly merciless trials we can experience in the world, but I have also never beed carried to higher ground through such a fallible, and yet lovable, hero. ( )
  HCBownsLibrary | Dec 9, 2012 |
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"Set in depleted, post-recession suburbia, with its endlessly interlocking cul-de-sacs, mega-parking lots and big box stores, The Infinite Tides tells the story of star astronaut Keith Corcoran's return to earth. Keith comes home from a lengthy mission aboard the International Space Station to find his wife and daughter gone, and a house completely empty of furniture, as if Odysseus had returned to Ithaca to find that everyone he knew had forgotten about him and moved on. Keith is a mathematical and engineering genius, but he is ill equipped to understand what has happened to him, and how he has arrived at the center of such vacancy. Then, he forges an unlikely friendship with a neighboring Ukrainian immigrant, and slowly begins to reconnect with the world around him. As the two men share their vastly different personal and professional experiences, they paint an indelible and nuanced portrait of modern American life. The result is a deeply moving, tragicomic and ultimately redemptive story of love, loss and resilience, and of two lives lived under the weight of gravity"--… (more)

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