Shine Shine Shine
By Lydia Netzer
Published on July 17, 2012
Published by St Martin's Press
Summary from Goodreads:
A debut unlike any other, Shine, Shine, Shine is a shocking, searing, breathless love story, a gripping portrait of modern family, and a stunning exploration of love, death and what it means to be human.
Sunny Mann has masterminded a life for herself and her family in a quiet Virginia town. Her house and her friends are picture-perfect. Even her genius husband, Maxon, has been trained to pass for normal. But when a fender bender on an average day sends her coiffed blonde wig sailing out the window, her secret is exposed. Not only is she bald, Sunny is nothing like the Stepford wife she’s trying to be. As her facade begins to unravel, we discover the singular world of Sunny, an everywoman searching for the perfect life, and Maxon, an astronaut on his way to colonize the moon.
Theirs is a wondrous, strange relationship formed of dark secrets, decades-old murders and the urgent desire for connection. As children, the bald, temperamental Sunny and the neglected savant Maxon found an unlikely friendship no one else could understand. She taught him to feel—helped him translate his intelligence for numbers into a language of emotion. He saw her spirit where others saw only a freak. As they grew into adults, their profound understanding blossomed into love and marriage.
But with motherhood comes a craving for normalcy that begins to strangle Sunny’s marriage and family. As Sunny and Maxon are on the brink of destruction, at each other’s throats with blame and fear of how they’ve lost their way, Maxon departs for the moon, where he’s charged with programming the robots that will build the fledgling colony. Just as the car accident jars Sunny out of her wig and into an awareness of what she really needs, an accident involving Maxon’s rocket threatens everything they’ve built, revealing the things they’ve kept hidden. And nothing will ever be the same.
On the surface, Sunny and Maxon Mann appear to have it all. Maxon is a genius Nobel Prize winner set to go to the moon, Sunny is the perfect mother with the perfect home and involvement in all the right groups (PTA, committees, board memberships), and they have an adorable little boy and another child on the way. All is not as it seems, though, and sometimes Sunny and Maxon seem to be barely holding on through all that's been keeping them together. The Manns are pretending to be normal to fit in with their little suburban community, but there's so much that they're hiding or telling half-truths about. Theirs is a world of secrets and lies and fear.
This was an intriguing, but very strange, book. None of the characters are particularly easy to like, and maybe hard to identify with, but you still empathize with them, especially as the book delves into their backstories. It's set against the backdrop of locales as exotic as Burma and as every-day as a small coal town in Pennsylvania. As the book jumps between the present-day and the past, going all the way back to Sunny's birth, you get a real feel for what has shaped them into the people that they became. It's an interesting study of difficult people having difficult relationships and loving each other anyway.
I wasn't sure how I felt about the book at first. The author has an almost stream-of-consciousness style to her writing, and the story jumps around frequently in time, but once I got used to it, it was easier to follow. It works on some levels as social commentary about what people do to fit in and be accepted, and what happens when people stop playing by the rules. I don't think it's a book for everyone, but if you're interested in a story about love, death, and the moon, I'd say to give it a shot.