‘Magnificent Desolation’ by Jess Walter

Magnificent Desolation by Jess Walter, 2019

The magic trick:

Turning a nugget of interesting nonfiction into the basis for a fictional plot’

It’s not difficult to imagine that Jess Walter was doing some reading, maybe some research for his next novel, or, hey, perhaps he just got sucked down a YouTube rabbit hole one night and came to admire the poetry surrounding the 1969 moon landing.

Buzz Aldrin famously described the moon’s magnificent desolation. And Walter uses the phrase here less as a metaphor as much as a literal jumping-off point for a plot.

The plot, thin but pleasant, certainly feels like it’s an accessory to the fun historic nugget. But it works.

And that’s quite a trick on Walter’s part.

The selection:

I have a crush on the mother of my worst student.

I suppose crush might seem an odd word for someone my age, 50, but it’s an apt one. I feel crushed by this woman who appears in my classroom doorway to talk about why her son is failing seventh-grade science.

Abigail Cullen is ethereal. She wears a white skirt and a dark blue top that remind me of the upper atmosphere, where the stratosphere meets the mesosphere.

Hey, I’m a science teacher, not a poet.


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