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The Infinite Tides: A Novel Hardcover – June 19, 2012

4.1 out of 5 stars 61 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“An astute, impressive, and ambitious debut.” ―Publishers Weekly, starred review

“[W]ith a shimmering lexicon of fractals, space travel, and physics as well as a piquantly metaphorical sense of place…Kiefer illuminates the nature of a mathematical mind, depicts a dire failure of familial empathy, and translates emotions into cosmic and algorithmic phenomena of startling beauty and profound resonance.” ―Booklist

“Arresting and haunting...What do we give up for our careers? What are we willing to sacrifice? For Keith Corcoran, in the stunning climax of The Infinite Tides, the answer is far too much. With intelligent and lyrical prose, this novel is at times heartbreaking... [A] remarkably self-assured debut. This isn't just the best first book I'll read this year; it may be the best.” ―Brooklyn Rail

“Smart, lyrical, deeply moving. The central character, a NASA astronaut who has touched the stars, must come to earth, as we all must. What he finds down here beneath the heavens is dizzying in its emotional complexity and pure aching beauty.” ―T.C. Boyle, author of When the Killing's Done

The Infinite Tides takes as its subject an astronaut brought to earth by abandonment and bewilderment. His journey is into the unknown of common suburbia, which he inhabits like an alien, and in whose unfamiliar atmosphere he must be taught to survive. This is a subtle and moving novel, a re-entry and recovery story that eloquently inhabits the terrain of grief and endurance.” ―Antonya Nelson, author of Bound

“With astronaut Keith Corcoran, Kiefer will take you on an awesome American life odyssey from the International Space Station down to the lower depths of suburbia. This is a breathtakingly beautiful and honest rendering of one man's massive life crisis. Part Space Oddity, part Revolutionary Road, this is a magnificently original novel. There are moments in this book I will never forget.” ―Anthony Swofford, author of Jarhead

“This novel will break your heart and take your breath away.” ―Ayelet Waldman, author of Red Hook Road

“Maybe the most beautiful subject in literature, when it is handled with grace and intelligence, is the realization and release of long denied grief. Christian Kiefer created astronaut Keith Corcoran to travel that galaxy of earthbound loss and regret, after one brief and glorious trip into orbit. The Infinite Tides is the most emotionally and syntactically sophisticated debut I have seen, possibly ever. Keith Corcoran's space walk is so powerfully rendered, it keeps showing up in my dreams.” ―Pam Houston, author of Contents May Have Shifted

About the Author

Christian Kiefer earned his Ph.D. in American literature from the University of California, Davis, and is on the English faculty of American River College in Sacramento. His poetry has appeared in various national journals including the Antioch Review and Santa Monica Review. He is also an accomplished songwriter and recording artist. He lives in the hill country north of Sacramento with his wife and five sons.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; First Edition edition (June 19, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608198103
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608198108
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,022,499 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Alan A. Elsner VINE VOICE on May 10, 2012
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.
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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.
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"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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