An El­e­gant The­ory

Noah Mil­li­gan

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction - MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER

Cen­tral Av­enue Pub­lish­ing Soft­cover $14.95 (320pp) 978-1-77168-099-8

A mind-bend­ing lit­er­ary Rorschach test of a novel, An El­e­gant The­ory evades strict con­clu­sions.

Noah Mil­li­gan’s An El­e­gant The­ory is a grand ex­per­i­ment of a novel, as much about the breath­tak­ing grandeur of string the­ory and the beauty of a com­plex uni­verse as it is about the dif­fi­cul­ties of strain­ing re­al­ity out from in­tri­cate delu­sions, par­tic­u­larly for those who hold their se­crets close.

PHD can­di­date Coul­ter grap­ples with his am­bi­tious dis­ser­ta­tion, of­ten work­ing against the de­sires of his com­mit­tee, and tries to bal­ance the de­mands of his work with the mun­dane needs of his wife, Sara. Sara feels de­tached and alone in their Boston sub­urb, and Coul­ter, for whom con­nec­tion has al­ways been more elu­sive than the­ory, is at a loss when it comes to help­ing her. The re­turn of his es­tranged mother only com­pli­cates mat­ters, as do his in­creas­ingly more fre­quent lu­cid dreams. As Coul­ter draws near to a uni­verse-al­ter­ing sci­en­tific break­through, his own re­al­ity only be­comes more mud­dled.

Just be­yond the reach of sci­en­tific ob­ser­va­tion, the fol­low­ing things may or may not be true of Coul­ter’s life: His mother left him to join a cult. He is deal­ing with a py­ro­ma­ni­a­cal teenager. He is ex­pect­ing his first child. He is sui­ci­dal. He is at risk of be­ing ex­pelled from MIT. His life is com­ing to­gether. He is pre­par­ing to ac­cept a No­bel Prize. He is grap­pling with lone­li­ness and a dan­ger­ous ob­ses­sion. He has just mur­dered his preg­nant wife.

Mil­li­gan’s nar­ra­tive crack­les with a mix of dan­ger, dis­as­so­ci­a­tion, hope, and de­spair. Coul­ter some­times nar­rates; some scenes come via an om­ni­scient ob­server. It be­comes dif­fi­cult, thrilling, and trou­bling to de­ter­mine which scenes are re­li­able and which are mere mis­fires in the ex­per­i­ment of Coul­ter’s life, re­sult­ing in a novel that, while it prof­fers few cer­tain an­swers, never ceases to en­gage.

An El­e­gant The­ory is a lit­er­ary Rorschach test, a mind-bend­ing ride, in which “real” con­clu­sions are elu­sive, and dis­cov­ery al­ways waits just be­yond the next page.

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