Sunny Mann seems to have it all: a young son, a new baby on the way, a husband whose genius has provided them wealth, a fancy house, energy to organize neighborhood and school events, and perfectly coiffed blonde hair. But when a car accident knocks the blonde hair off her head, the life Sunny has been trying to create for the past few years begins to come undone, and the truth about her and her family can no longer be hidden.
"I can't say enough good things about SHINE SHINE SHINE, and it’s almost impossible to put the book down once you crack it open. Well-paced, well-plotted, and told with a fresh, lyrical and bold narrative style, Netzer’s debut novel is compelling, smart, strange and enjoyable."
SHINE SHINE SHINE, Lydia Netzer’s mesmerizing first novel, is, as the narrative voice tells us, “The story of an astronaut who was lost in space, and the wife he left behind. Or, this is the story of a brave man who survived the wreck of the first rocket sent into space with the intent to colonize the moon. This is the story of the human race, who pushed one crazy little splinter of metal and a few pulsing cells up into the vast dark reaches of the universe, in the hope that the splinter would hit something and stick, and that the little pulsing cells could somehow survive. This is the story of a bulge, a bud, the way the human race tried to subdivide, the bud it formed out into the universe, and what happened to that bud, and what happened to the Earth, too, the mother Earth, after the bud was burst.”
When Sunny’s wig comes off, and her friends and neighbors see her bald for the first time, it is not only emotionally liberating but confusing as well. It sets off an intense and personal exploration of Sunny’s life --- her past, present and future. And it couldn’t have come at a more chaotic time. Not only is she about to have a baby, but her mother is in the hospital hooked up to life support machines, her son Bubber is being kicked out of preschool due to his autism, and her husband Maxon is in a spaceship that has just been hit by a meteorite. The premise is fantastical (there are robots and dead fathers in the mix as well), but Netzer pulls it off with aplomb and style.
As the novel progresses, we learn more and more about Sunny and Maxon; their long and complicated history together, as well as their attempts to make their marriage work. Their struggles are at once singular (Maxon and Sunny are both outliers to the suburban life they have recently fashioned for themselves) and universal. And Netzer wonderfully presents the eccentricities of the Manns along with the mundane aspects of their lives. There are plenty of interesting supporting characters, too, especially Sunny’s mother and the Burmese woman, Nu, who helped raise her.
The tension slowly but surely builds throughout the book as more about Sunny, Maxon and Bubber is revealed, as Maxon’s space mission meets with disaster, and as the baby whom Sunny is carrying comes to term. There are funny and heartwarming moments here, as well as touches of speculative fiction, but mostly SHINE SHINE SHINE is a fresh piece of realism centered on an extraordinary family trying to be normal and fit in. It is about expression and conformity, love and patience, everyday family life, and the life one longs to live.
I can't say enough good things about SHINE SHINE SHINE, and it’s almost impossible to put the book down once you crack it open. Well-paced, well-plotted, and told with a fresh, lyrical and bold narrative style, Netzer’s debut novel is compelling, smart, strange and enjoyable. It shines as brightly as Sunny’s bald head and the luminous stars Maxon sees in space.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on July 19, 2012
Shine Shine Shine