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The Path of Minor Planets: A Novel Hardcover – October 5, 2001

4.1 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

In 1965, a small band of astronomers and their families gathers on a remote South Pacific island to watch Comet Swift, but instead they witness a tragic accident that results in the death of a child. This event triggers momentous change in the lives of the observers, who reunite every six years on the island to comet-gaze. For 25 years, in a tale that is more "tell" than "show," Greer tracks the lives of Eli and Kathy Spivak; the brilliant Denise, wife of Adam and colleague (and then lover) of Eli; and Dr. Swift and his daughter Lydia, who is a miniature astronomer of the heart. As the years go by, Lydia observes the love affairs, academic jealousies, and relationship subterfuges that move across the tropical landscape during the reunions. Like worrying a sore tooth, the scientists revisit personal mistakes and weaknesses, intent on dissecting their ineffectiveness despite their collective intellectual powers. The result is a brainy debut novel by an award-winning short-story writer (How It Was for Me). For larger libraries. Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor District Lib., MI
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From The New Yorker

After witnessing a child fall to his death during a comet sighting on an island in the South China Sea, two astronomers try to shake off the pull of gravity in a love affair. Eli is married to a woman he adores but doesn't understand; Denise's sheltered, brainy childhood has left her "angry and terrified, jealous of other people's lives—their youths spent making love in old cars and graveyards." Over almost three decades, the lovers approach and retreat again, their desire elusive even to themselves. In this début novel, Greer pinpoints the "tiny hidden madnesses in ordinary people" with unerring accuracy, and, in prose littered with sparks, makes palpable the longing for the celestial.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; First Edition edition (October 5, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312275560
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312275563
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,161,952 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Andrew Sean Greer is the bestselling author of five works of fiction, including The Story of a Marriage, which The New York Times has called an "inspired, lyrical novel," and The Confessions of Max Tivoli, which was named a best book of 2004 by the San Francisco Chronicle and the Chicago Tribune. He is the recipient of the Northern California Book Award, the California Book Award, the New York Public Library Young Lions Award, the O Henry Award for short fiction and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Public Library. Greer lives in San Francisco. His latest novel is The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on October 28, 2002
Format: Paperback
This novel is a remarkable find. Beautifully written, with many highly individualized characters, described with sharp and subtle insight. They interact through a cyclical plot that documents the effects of time on ambition (declining)and compassion (increasing). Never predictable, it is always intelligent and profoundly sympathetic to the human condition. The story moves with Comet Swift, from its discovery through two orbits (24 years),with periodic reunions at aphelion and perihelion. The second comet is discovered along the way by the protagonists, the reluctant lovers whose sad and joyous affair is the backbone of the narrative. One of the best I've read in recent years.
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By Erin on March 25, 2003
Format: Paperback
I picked this book up because I live in Bay Area and I was interested in reading a Bay Area author. This book is truly a find. The characters are fully realized and the writing is quite beautiful. I have to admit, I did find the first section (the first reunion of the comet) to be a little hard to get into, but I plowed forward, and now I am entirely wrapped up in the narrative. There are lines in this that sparkle--the kind you write down to remember long after you have put down the book. Further, the way time works in this novel is quite astonishing--you believe you're on this linear path where you're marching through the years. However, the narrative keeps circling around these moments. While on some levels this isn't Virginia Woolf (and I am also reading MRS DALLOWAY at the same time), I do find that both Greer and Woolf are interested in the "moment" and the ways in which a moment can resonate but not actually change a life--these moments are not Joycian epiphanies that become public acknowledgments of change. Instead these are touchstones in our lives that we return to again and again and ponder. A great book.
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Format: Hardcover
"The Path of Minor Planets" is a reader's delight. Complex. Character-driven. Agile. Beautiful. It's a magnificent, mature work, amazing for a first novelist.
Written in what critics now like to call "psycho-narrative," Greer's book displays a third-person omniscient narrative that bores into its characters heads. It's a risky style: after all, Greer has to populate his characters with enough detail and freshness so that they feel real. And that he does it, not through action or scene or dialog, but for the most part through the subtler, richer stuff of the human brain and its wandering eye. Like "The Waves," "Path..." brings us about as close to our essential humanity as a book can.
"Path..." ostensibly is about a group of astronomers who meet once every six years to celebrate a minor comet discovered by their own academic star, Professor Swift. Their first meeting to witness the comet's passing from a lightless and distant Pacific isle is interrupted by an accident involving the death of a child. Subsequent chapters track characters who were present at the scene through their lives, failed marriages, and stormy careers.
But "Path..." reveals much more. "Path..." shows us the effect of inhabiting different heads, of the space separating human objects in their orbits around one another, of the physical and emotional laws tying us together.
It's unfortunate that Greer's book has thus far been under-appreciated. However, with the talent available to the author, I have no doubt as to his future successes.
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Format: Paperback
Path of Minor Planets is Greer's first novel, coming before Confessions of Max Tivoli, which has garnered more attention and praise. Personally, I preferred Path to Tivoli, finding the writing equally strong but the story even better.

Path opens with a group of astronomers and their students gathering in 1965 to watch the return of Comet Swift (named after the organizer of the gathering). Here we're introduced to all the major characters at their varying stages of life-established professors, ambitious/nervous grad students, young children, people at the end or beginning of marriages, etc. During the viewing, they all witness the accidental death of a young island boy and the story moves on from there, using the return of the comet to structure the novel.

The time structure works well as we jump ahead in these lives to see how they've changed. While the comet's cycle forms the novel's backbone, Greer doesn't hold to it slavishly, allowing himself in each cycle's section to meander back and forth over the intervening years. Along the way we are treated to the events, both minor and major, in the characters' lives and the way their lives, like the comet and earth, keep circling each other. Again, due to the difference in ages, there is a lot of variety here, as some characters find first flush of love disappearing, some find their career ambitions thwarted, others move into the twilight of their lives while some into the energetic adolescence. Narrative perspective shifts among the characters and Greer does an excellent job capturing this variety of voice and tone. The characters sound authentic across the spectrum of age and gender and personality, and this authenticity continues throughout the novel as they move into various life stages.
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