The legendary sportswriter Red Smith once remarked that writing was
not difficult: "All you do is sit down in front of a typewriter and
open up a vein." Imagine for a moment the accomplishments of Herman
Wouk. Apparently not content to rest on a duly deserved reputation
for such works as THE CAINE MUTINY and THE WINDS OF WAR, to name
just two of his novels, he continues to publish at the age of 88.
Lest anyone believe that he is living on his past, A HOLE IN TEXAS,
his most recent effort, is a lively and entertaining novel,
enjoyable and easy to read.
The hole in A HOLE IN TEXAS is the aborted excavation in the Lone
Star State of the Superconducting Super Collider, a scientific
project of mammoth proportion that would have allowed physicists to
locate a minuscule particle known as the Higgs boson. In 1993,
perhaps for political but certainly for budgetary considerations,
the U.S. Congress pulled the plug on the Collider and hundreds of
scientists in Texas were left in a deep hole.
Guy Carpenter, the main character of the novel, is one of those
scientists. A middle-aged physicist with a young wife and child, he
was able to move from the defunct Texas project to work at NASA's
Jet Propulsion Lab on the terrestrial Planet Finder. This project,
the son of the Hubble Telescope, is also facing potential funding
problems. Good science does not come cheap and the change purses of
taxpayers are no longer easily opened to fund scientific
Carpenter and the scientific community are stunned one day to hear
the Chinese government announce that they have discovered and
isolated the Higgs boson. The significance of this discovery is
that the Chinese now have the ability to produce the Boson Bomb, a
weapon that dwarfs atomic or hydrogen bombs in destructive
magnitude. A special news bulletin by Peter Jennings, interrupting
a nationally televised sporting event, demonstrates the importance
of the news of the Chinese discovery.
With the Higgs boson as his vehicle, Herman Wouk takes the reader
on a paradoxical and often humorous journey that pokes fun at
modern media and politicians. One of Carpenter's allies in the
response to the Chinese announcement is Representative Myra Kadane.
The Congresswoman succeeded her late husband in office. Her house
committee has the task of investigating not only why the Super
Collider was shut down prematurely but also why the Chinese
accomplished what American scientists could not. As the
investigation commences, Guy Carpenter offers his scientific
insight in exchange for a glimpse into the opulent life of the rich
and powerful in Washington and in Hollywood. Carpenter is the major
beneficiary of this trade.
The plot thickens with the news that one of the Chinese scientists
working on the Higgs boson project was a fellow grad student with
Carpenter at Cornell. Not surprisingly, this information when
discovered by the media adds the final ingredient, sex, to national
crises. Every element is now in place for a media frenzy.
Granted, A HOLE IN TEXAS is not a classic novel and is not to be
confused with THE CAINE MUTINY. But you will enjoy the skewering of
politicians, media moguls and a few Hollywood types and attorneys
thrown in for good measure. At 88 years of age Herman Wouk has
written an entertaining novel. Perhaps like the legendary artist
Grandma Moses, he can continue to work at his trade well into his
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on January 22, 2011
A Hole in Texas