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Evidence of Things Unseen: A Novel Paperback – June 2, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The redoubtable Wiggins, always fearless in choosing subjects for her work (John Dollar; Almost Heaven) here tells the story of the atomic bomb through the eyes of one average Joe, amateur chemist Ray Foster, or "Fos," of Kitty Hawk, N.C. His fascination with "the kinds of lights nature can produce, the ones not always visible to man," serves him well in lighting the trenches during the Great War in France. When it is over, fellow soldier "Flash" Handy invites Fos to help him start a photography studio in Knoxville, Tenn. In a fated moment, Fos falls in love with a glassblower's daughter, the unflappable and luminescent Opal; they marry, and Opal helps run the studio. Meanwhile, Flash turns out to be a man with many secrets, one so tragic that it separates him permanently from Fos and Opal. Their sorrow at Flash's fate is somewhat forgotten when, after years of infertility, they are granted a baby, named Lightfoot. They move to land Opal inherits in rural Tennessee, but after it is claimed by the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1942, Fos finds a job in Oak Ridge with a government lab that, unbeknownst to him, is on deadline to create the atomic bomb that will be dropped on Hiroshima. In response to that horrific event and other heartache, the Fosters do something desperate that only serves to betray their nine-year-old son. Lightfoot proves to be more courageous and determined than Fos or Opal ever were, and finally finds the only person left in the world who can help him. Wiggins fits her lyrical prose to a distinctly rural, Southern cadence, easily blending the vernacular with luminous imagery, adding bits of poetry, passages explaining scientific phenomena, interpolations about the Scopes trial and even references to Moby-Dick, which serves as a leitmotif. By the time she brings the narrative full circle in a masterful and moving plot twist, she has succeeded in creating "literature as an ongoing exploration of the human tragedy-man's condition." Wiggins comes into her own with this novel, her best book to date.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Ray "Fos" Foster loves just three things in life: anything that lights up; his wife, Opal, the daughter of a glassblower; and his best friend, bemused, cynical Chance "Flash" Luttrell. Fos and Flash, who met in the trenches of World War I, start up a business as photographers in Knoxville, Tennessee, while Opal keeps the books. The first thing Opal discovers is that black sheep Flash is underwriting the whole enterprise with inherited wealth. But their congenial partnership ends badly when Flash falls in love with the 14-year-old daughter of a powerful politician and is jailed for violating the Mann Act. The Fosters head to the country, make a bust of farming, and take in a foundling they nickname Lightfoot. Fos' passion for science leads to work at a secret government facility, where the couple unknowingly contracts a fatal case of radiation poisoning. Things come full circle when Lightfoot turns 18 and, desperate for information about his parents, tracks down Flash. Leave it to Wiggins to make this quirky story of passion and science so hypnotic. The plotting is digressive, the themes are stark, the language is lush, and the idiosyncratic characters are entirely winning. A heartfelt tribute to the risks and rewards of following one's inner lights. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (June 2, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743258096
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743258098
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #67,071 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Reader from Singapore on January 28, 2005
Format: Paperback
Marianne Wiggins' "Evidence Of Things Unseen (EOTU)" was an also-ran in the 2003 National Book Awards stake that should have snagged the prize. Shirley Hazzard's "The Great Fire" was a worthy winner but it's also more difficult and less accessible to the reading public.

EOTU is an uncommon masterpiece, a magically uplifting work of American fiction that outstrips anything I have read in recent years. Written in gloriously poetic, incandescent prose, EOTU is ambitious, even epic in scope, yet relentlessly intimate in execution. Wiggins somehow manages to locate the fulcrum that keeps the delicate balance throughout without losing either thread. The story of Fos and Opal is a tender love story on one level and a ode to the mystery of life on another.

Fos is obsessed with light, radiance, phosphorous material, anything that glows in the dark. Opal is the "gem" that drops into his life while on the way to catch the falling stars one night. But unlike the untutored Opal who exudes a quiet wisdom in dealing with life's surprises, Fos hangs his life on harnessing the natural world for the betterment of mankind, so when his faith in science turns around unexpectedly to backbite the hand that feeds it, his world crumbles and dissolves. But just when it seems like science has dealt the couple its most cruel blow, we are reminded that life has also gifted them with Lightfoot, a child that dropped into their lives, as it were, from nowhere. Just as it is capable of delivering Lightfoot to the childless couple, life is equally capable of letting an innocent child bite into a live cable and leave death and destruction in its wake.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Brett Benner VINE VOICE on February 18, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There are many book I read, and truly enjoy, and happily give them a five star review. This is the kind of book that reminds you what five stars should truly represent. A heartbreaking and beautiful love story threaded through the creation of the atomic bomb, and America's call to arms, Wiggins has a bounty of just gorgeous prose at her fingertips that she depenses like cultured pearls. Watching the lives of Fos and Opal as they navigate through major events in American history including two wars, the Scopes trial, and creation of the TVA, is both tenderly fascinating and crushing. This is what fantastic writing is all about.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Michael Ruggiero on December 31, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Wiggins does a masterful job of intertwining historical themes (American exceptionalism; ethical traps posed by 20th century scientific advances) with larger themes of love and death. But the book has tremendous heart, her characters are not historical constructs but as alive as people you know. Her prose is lyrical, but always inviting, never pretentious. Highly recommended.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Philip T. Mccollum on January 6, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Evidence of Things Unseen tells it story through people. It sounds simple, almost all stories seem to be told through people, but a lot of fiction tells the story mainly through plot, allegories, or nifty literary devices-and while those stories can make for excellent reading, they don't have the power this book does.

I really enjoyed the book and was reading newspaper reviews of it, one review lamented while they enjoyed the good writing, they were not quite sure what Wiggins was trying to tell them between the lines, noting two obvious lessons, the atomic bomb was bad and love is good. However, from my interpretation of the book to understand its lessons you did not need to read between the lines to get the lessons of the book-you need only pay careful attention to the characters and their interactions to understand the book.

This book is a love story-me, being a male-with incredibly slowness did not catch on to that fact until mid-way through the book, but once I caught I understood the philosophy of the book better. Love is not a simple notion-it consists of a lot of different verbs and nouns like lust, trust, familiarity, friendship, empathy, forgiveness, sacrifice and other words-this book tracks over 25 years of a relationship-the book is not about romance, but love and delves into the complexities of it, even its shortcoming (Opal the wife, though she loves her husband feels unfulfilled due to her inability to get pregnant.)

One of the things that interested me in analyzing this novel was figuring out which voice was most associated with the author's voice.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Joyce on February 28, 2011
Format: Paperback
While I found the references to light and white a little too hammered-in throughout this novel, taken as a whole (all character, little plot), it is a good read. The award-winning author, an English professor at USC and former wife of Salman Rushdie, projects her imagination onto these light-named folks better than in her novel The Shadow Catcher. References to Moby-Dick throughout reminded me that the "white" chapter of that novel was my favorite part of the entire story.

Wiggins portrays the Knoxville, TN area, the TVA, early photography, and the Tennessee River in poetic language, and she repeats that feat with the Monterey Bay area of CA. Moving along the decades, the author does a good job of tying up all the loose ends. As in her prior works, there are a bit too many coincidences, but that's the tactical way to tie up all the loose ends, after all. Clever and enlightened names: Opal, Pearl, Fos, Flash, Lightfoot, and all of them.

I especially liked this description of a Tennessee farmer: "He was a big man whose only understanding of the narrative of life, its shape and substance, was made up entirely of the world he worked with his big hands, not his mind---the world he saw, the one he walked upon and cursed at, sowed and harvested and thanked and ate for supper. He lived a diet and calendar of crop requirements; things beyond that, things he couldn't see and touch, may as well have been things from another planet. Beyond a farmer's natural cycle of fatality and hope, his struggle against soil and pestilence and unrepentant weather, there was no abstraction in [his]...life. Land ain't land less somethin comes of it..."
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