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The Infinite Tides Kiefer, Christian ( Author ) Jun-19-2012 Hardcover [Hardcover]

Christian Kiefer
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (19 Jun 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00CC6G1JE
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 17 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The Infinite Tides is a book about emptiness. The emptiness of space. The emptiness of astronaut Keith Corocan's family relationships which he sacrificed in order to pursue his training at NASA. The emptiness of his house which had nearly all its furniture removed by his wife while he was circling the Earth in the International Space Station.

Up on the space station, Keith was a respected engineer, responsible for fitting a complex robotic arm that he had redesigned. Ready to go back into the airlock he had "a strong feeling that he had lost something". Soon after returning inside the space station, a colleague took him aside and broke the tragic news that Keith's teenage daughter Quinn had died in a car accident. Technical difficulties meant that his return home could not be expedited and he eventually departed from the space station three months later.

Back on Earth, Keith was no longer deemed fit for work. Other than flashbacks to his training and time in space, the plot follows Keith as he prepares to sell the empty family home he had spent so little time in. The estate is an anonymous suburbia: four or five plans of houses laid out in endless cul-de-sacs.

Keith is no longer in control. He is in denial about incoming bills and the boxes of personal effects that his wife moved to the garage. He is enchanted by his next door neighbour, Jennifer. Initially irritated by a Ukrainian man's antics in the local Starbucks, Keith warms to Peter Kovalenko's love of astronomy and spends countless hours with him sitting in a field looking up at the stars. But confronted by an expert in another discipline who is also out of luck, the novel explores whether Keith has the capacity to reach out and help Peter to overcome his difficulties?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Book I've Read This Year 16 Sep 2012
Format:Paperback
"The airlock opened. He knew there would be no perceptible change in pressure but now that the moment had arrived he somehow expected the transition of atmosphere to be audible, for the brief symphony of thumps and clicks between the shuttle and the docking node to include the hiss or shush or sigh of oxygen exchange and yet, despite the absence of such a marker, the swing of the hatch felt to Keith like a sudden outrushing of the tide, a sensation that remained with him as he floated through the opening and entered the Harmony Module where the crew they had come to relieve all smiled expectantly back at him. It was a moment as glorious and transcendent as any he could have imagined and he would realize only later that it represented the single coordinate point in which he understood that he had done it, that at last he had entered the long incredible upward-turning arc that had been the trajectory of his life, and that he was, finally and undeniably, an astronaut."

So begins Christian Kiefer's novel The Infinite Tides. With his arrival aboard the International Space Station, mathematical genius Keith Corcoran has finally fulfilled his life long ambition of becoming an astronaut, and his amazement at his own achievement is palpable. Rightfully so. He has dedicated his whole life to this moment. Then, while on a spacewalk, at the very pinnacle of his accomplishment, his sixteen-year-old daughter is killed in a car accident back on earth. His powerlessness in the face of personal loss is amplified as he gazes down helplessly from space on the world scrolling beneath him, the language of numbers--gorgeously rendered--suddenly no longer the comfort they had been:

"Watch them now: the numbers as if stretched upon a wire. The sixes stacked astride the decimal.
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  47 reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quietly devastating depiction of mourning 10 May 2012
By Alan A. Elsner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The protagonist of this quietly devastating novel is Keith Corcoran whose whole life was devoted to the aim of becoming an astronaut. He achieves his ambition and during a space walk, seems to have reached a kind of apotheosis where he experiences a sense of oneness with a universe that seems to be in perfect balance.

This is an illusion. While aboard the International Space Station, his beloved teenaged daughter Quinn dies in a road accident. Keith is stuck in orbit, unable to attend the funeral. When he finally gets home, his wife has emptied out their home and left.

This is one of the most chilling depictions of bereavement I have ever read. Quinn, like her father, was a mathematical prodigy. Like him, she saw numbers in color and had an instinctive relationship to the equations that govern the world. Keith believed her to be a part of himself, the only other person in the world capable of viewing the world through the same prism. And now she is dead.

Keith has been sent home by NASA to recover and finds himself in an empty home being eaten by termites (the one cheap metaphor in the book) on a barren cul-de-sac in a half abandoned subdivison. He is suffering from devastating migraines and trying vainly to make sense of a world that has suddenly become senseless.

He plunges into a sexual adventure with his randy neighbor Jennifer and begins to forge a tentative relationship with a Ukrainian immigrant, Peter -- an intelligent but deeply frustrated man with a passion for astronomy who is forced to work at a menial job stacking shelves at Target. The two of them hang out drinking beer, smoking weed and peering at distant galaxies through a telescope.

Keith makes occasional attempts at activity but his life seems meaningless - everything, the author notes, has telescoped into guilt and bereavement and a kind of emptiness he cannot understand. Keith had imagined a world made up of mathematical equations -- but has come to realize, too late, that in fact life consists of human connections and without them, has no value and no meaning. He had thought he was working toward a worthwhile goal but has realized, too late, that he missed all the precious, small but important moments with his wife and daughter -- and now they are gone.

The grim conclusion is spoken by Peter's wife Luda, who says, "You and Peter are the same. Both never happy here and now. Only looking for the next thing to do. You don't even know where you are and what you have"

This is a bleak but lyrical book full of sadness and wisdom. It should make us all think about where we are and
what we have."
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book of the year 26 Jun 2012
By Red C Rex - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"The airlock opened. He knew there would be no perceptible change in pressure but now that the moment had arrived he somehow expected the transition of atmosphere to be audible, for the brief symphony of thumps and clicks between the shuttle and the docking node to include the hiss or shush or sigh of oxygen exchange and yet, despite the absence of such a marker, the swing of the hatch felt to Keith like a sudden outrushing of the tide, a sensation that remained with him as he floated through the opening and entered the Harmony Module where the crew they had come to relieve all smiled expectantly back at him. It was a moment as glorious and transcendent as any he could have imagined and he would realize only later that it represented the single coordinate point in which he understood that he had done it, that at last he had entered the long incredible upward-turning arc that had been the trajectory of his life, and that he was, finally and undeniably, an astronaut."

So begins Christian Kiefer's novel The Infinite Tides. With his arrival aboard the International Space Station, mathematical genius Keith Corcoran has finally fulfilled his life long ambition of becoming an astronaut, and his amazement at his own achievement is palpable. Rightfully so. He has dedicated his whole life to this moment. Then, while on a spacewalk, at the very pinnacle of his accomplishment, his sixteen-year-old daughter is killed in a car accident back on earth. His powerlessness in the face of personal loss is amplified as he gazes down helplessly from space on the world scrolling beneath him, the language of numbers--gorgeously rendered--suddenly no longer the comfort they had been:

"Watch them now: the numbers as if stretched upon a wire. The sixes stacked astride the decimal. The seven and three and zeroes behind them. Study them all your days and then ask yourself how any such equation could describe anything at all: the water rushing across the sand, the tiny stars, the way her hand curled into his. They could not even describe the way he felt about the numbers themselves, what they had meant to him, what they would continue to mean.

"Such equations to imagine. Now watch them vanish into the spiral lemniscate of what is to come. This the black firmament. This the dark matter flowing into and out of your heart."

Corcoran's grief is further compounded when his long-failing marriage cannot withstand the piercing tragedy or his prolonged absence in this time of grief. When Keith finally returns to gravity, his family is gone and his house is empty. This might not be so unbearable if he could escape within the equations and calculations of his work as he has always done, but NASA has put him on forced leave, and he must fully confront his loss. With the help of a new friend--a Ukrainian immigrant--Corcoran navigates the suburban world of cul-de-sacs, incomplete housing developments, and shopping malls as he tries to rebuild a life that seems both as mysterious and vacuous as the vast emptiness of space itself.

At the core of this book is the subject of man dealing with grief, and Kiefer handles this gracefully, tenderly, and honestly. Despite risking sentimentality, the story never descends into melodrama. Indeed, there are a handful of scenes that are as arresting and haunting as any in literature, such as the one in which Corcoran weeps aboard the ISS, his tears floating around him like little diamonds or stars. The elegance with which Kiefer handles grief alone is worth the read. But more subtly this book is about the American need to have our identities tied to our professions.

Without positing an easy or overt socio-economic agenda tied to the relationship between identity and our market economy, Kiefer presents a man in a crisis of professional and personal identity. As the current economic crisis has shown, people who define themselves by their jobs can be confronted with an existential crisis when standing in the unemployment line. "What do you do?" is one of the first questions adults ask when they engage with each other outside of work. And we are quick to form opinions about people based upon the answers. So, what do we give up for our careers? What are we willing to sacrifice? For Keith Corcoran, the ultimate answer is far too much.

Kiefer reinforces this theme of identity in a number of ways, but his use of setting is particularly adept in doing so. He clearly understands that setting should not merely be a backdrop for the action, but another character in the story. Keith Corcoran is a man who believes that life, demonstrated through one's career accomplishments, is a vector with some clear destination of achievement. He shares the American conviction that if you work hard enough, you can get somewhere and be somebody. The problem with this belief, Kiefer reminds us, is that it fails to recognize that each of us already is somewhere and someone. Thus, Kiefer writes,

"One moment you are an astronaut floating high above a space station at the end of a robotic arm of your own design, the next you are driving through an endless suburb.... Grass-covered squares and rectangles. Seemingly identical cul-de-sacs appearing and disappearing as he passed, different only in their state of completion: the perfect model home, then the skeletal structure of a wooden frame, then a patch of bare dirt holding an unfinished foundation. Between these states: a fractal landscape of courts and ways that turned inward upon themselves, thin and many-legged spiders that had, in death, curled into their own bulbous bodies, clutching the empty, still air between perfectly manicured lawns."

There is nothing accidental about this description of place. Corcoran rockets out of the atmosphere on the way to the zenith of a career, but here on Earth we literally move in a maze of the ordinary. A career might move along a linear line, but a career is not a life. And in fact, though Corcoran has blasted into space and become "finally and undeniably, an astronaut," the truth is the International Space Station is simply circling around and around the planet. Even Keith's space walk is just to move a nitrogen tank from one end of the station to the other, something Kiefer cleverly describes in such mundane terms as "not unlike removing a huge washing machine from between countertop and floor and cabinetry."

Kiefer's prose is always intelligent and lyrical, turning the language of math into sheer poetry, but his writing is also at turns heartbreaking and breathtakingly human, such as this flashback to Keith about to leave for space and addressing his daughter, who is more interested in teenage concerns than her own mathematical gifts:

"And so he said what he would regret all his days to come:'I'm disappointed,' he told her. 'I'm disappointed in you.' His daughter who was a straight-A student, who was brilliant, and popular, and beautiful. Even in that moment, standing in her doorway, he could feel his heart crumbling inside the cage of his chest."

Surely any parent who has said something unintentionally cruel to a child and immediately regretted it recognizes the poignancy of this moment, a poignancy amplified by the fact these are his last face to face words to his daughter before her death.

Finally, allow me to comment briefly on the stunning climax of this book. There are some books that end with exploding pyrotechnics of drama and language. Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude and Cormac MacCarthy's Blood Meridian strike me as master examples of this first category. Other books, particularly contemporary novels, often end with a virtual anticlimax. Roberto Bolano's 2666 is the first and best example that comes to mind in this second category. Both approaches, handled correctly, make for marvelous endings. But prior to reading Kiefer's book, I never encountered a novel that did both simultaneously. Frankly, it never occurred to me that a novel could do both. But The Infinite Tides proves it can be done, and the effect in Kiefer's hands is dazzling, absolutely dazzling.

The Infinite Tides is the most self-assured debut I've ever read, bar none. This isn't just the best first book I'll read this year. It will be the best book. Christian Kiefer had better strap himself in because I suspect his career is about to be launched into orbit. I, for one, look forward to watching the rocket trail of his ascent and wish him godspeed.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An astronaut stranded on Earth 25 Jun 2012
By TChris - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
An astronaut returns from a mission to find that his wife has left him, emptying their house of all its contents -- all except a sofa that he hates. As is often true in a marriage, the characteristics that attracted Barb to Keith Corcoran are those that drove her to have an affair: his ambition and dedication, his drive to excel, his sense of destiny. Her complaints are common: he's never around, he doesn't talk to her. Keith understandably believes her complaints to be unfair; he hasn't changed, these are things she knew about him when she chose to marry him. But Barb has found a man who "listens" and the accidental death of their daughter while Keith was orbiting the Earth has only strengthened Barb's desire to leave their marriage. She tells him of her decision while he's still in space -- in the same space station where he learned of his daughter's death. Having finally returned to Earth, Keith isn't coping well. He has severe headaches. He's taking unwanted time off from work while he "adjusts." He has numbed himself into forgetting his last unpleasant conversation with the daughter who drifted away from him before she died.

The novel's other significant characters are a transplanted Ukranian named Peter Kovalenko, a mother named Jennifer who lives across the street from Keith, the mother's precocious daughter and Peter's wife. Peter, like Keith, is challenged by the need to begin a new life. He's a more interesting (and believable) character than Jennifer, whose behavior didn't strike me as credible.

Keith, on the other hand, is a convincing if not particularly likable character. A talented writer can make a reader understand and even empathize with an unlikable character, and that's exactly what Christian Kiefer does in The Infinite Tides. Keith is a man more at home with equations than people, a man who understands the relationships between numbers more than his relationships with his wife and daughter. Numbers make sense to him; people don't. His life had seemed to unfold with the clarity of an equation until it became "a faded ghostly scrawl impossible to read." Keith feels guilt for being an absentee father and for pushing his daughter to become another math whiz even if he can't admit his guilt to himself. Burying himself in numbers is no longer cutting it but reaching out to others is not his strength. Unable to cope with his sense of failure, he hides inside the comfort of a meaningless daily routine. Unable to return to work, he yearns to escape the pull of gravity, to float above the problems that chain him to his Earthbound life. I found his predicament and his reaction to it to be unexpectedly moving.

Kiefer writes sentences that crash forward with the power and rhythm of ocean waves. At other times his sentences drift "like a moonlit boat on a flat and silent sea" (to borrow one of Kiefer's phrases). His best passages stabbed me like a stiletto. Dramatic images enliven The Infinite Tides: Keith tethered to a robotic arm that swings him in an arc over the space station, a moment that he repeatedly recalls to memory but lacks the words to describe; Keith and a retired naval officer wrestling a drunken, passed-out Peter into a car shortly after Peter proclaimed his love for a teenage barista at Starbucks; Keith and Peter star-gazing in a field; Keith getting caught with Jennifer in a compromising position.

Caveat: This may be a "man's novel," or at least a novel that speaks to men more than women. Two of the three significant adult female characters are presented in an entirely unfavorable light. If we saw Keith's marriage from Barb's perspective we would likely have a different take on Barb, but this is Keith's story and it therefore seems fair that we see Barb only as Keith sees her. That Barb comes across as uncaring, domineering, and even a bit cruel is entirely understandable, but readers who aren't sympathetic to Keith may disagree. Another caveat: Readers looking for a happy smiley domestic drama in which good things happen to good people should stay far away from The Infinite Tides. Although the novel offers moments that feel redemptive and guardedly optimistic, this is a vivid and uncompromising portrait of a man in agony, a man who is only starting to come to terms with his losses and, in the process, to understand himself. Keith's is not a comfortable head to occupy, but it's worth the effort.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I tell you now there are no epiphanies 15 May 2013
By ClarissaD - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The Infinite Tides is a relatable, heart touching story about everyday human regrets and desires. It touches on the idea of the American dream and exposes some of the realities that can upset and offset those dreams. I enjoyed reading the novel very much and look forward to reading more of Christian Kiefer's books. I was extremely pleased to have this as one of my books that I was required to read for the semester in my English class and will definitely be reading again.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Language lovers, go no further! 9 Dec 2012
By K. Sadira Dorran - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A profound debut novel illuminating the complex beauty of human experience, The Infinite Tides captures heartbreaking tragedy and transforms it into growth and beauty 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 [I actually learned new words, thank you!] 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.
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