Relativity

A major reason why I so enjoy my involvement with “Bookin’ with Sunny” centers on the books themselves. Not only do I get to choose books that sound like ones I’d love to read, but I also accidentally get to read books I wouldn’t normally choose. One such treasure is Antonia Hayes’ Australian novel, Relativity. The subject matter—a precocious twelve-year-old and his estranged parents—doesn’t particularly appeal to me. But Sunny added Relativity to my pile of novels to be read, and so I dutifully began. (A caveat—sometimes I don’t finish or review everything Sunny foists on me, but that’s another topic.)

Anyway, ten pages into Relativity and I couldn’t stop reading. The characters are well-drawn; their intersections and disjunctures, utterly engrossing. Raised solely by his mother, Ethan Forsythe knows nothing about his father. His mother, Claire, never even mentions his father’s name, Mark. Two catalysts change this situation. Ethan begins to hear rumors about his heritage at the same time the terminal illness of his grandfather draws his father back to Sydney. Mark writes Claire about the impending death; Ethan intercepts the letter.

Since Relativity is a novel that cautiously unfolds its mysteries, its secrets, its silences, I can’t reveal more than the bare bones of its structure. I can’t tell you why Ethan’s parents are estranged, and what caused the hiatus that tore the family apart. Suffice to say that Hayes has generated a most compelling set of circumstances. She slowly breaks the silences of her characters, but keeps their deepest secrets until the very end. They talk, but the truth is elusive. Honestly, I couldn’t solve the mysteries until the final page.

Hayes uses physics to bind the action of Relativity. Quite gifted in science, Ethan is especially fascinated by the universe and the stars. He doesn’t know that his father was once a particle physicist, and that he comes naturally by his scientific talents. Relativity and time travel metaphorically center his world. What if this damaged family could travel back twelve years? How did they relate to one another then? And how might they relate now? How does the past dictate the present? And the future? And what part might gravity play? So many theoretical and practical questions for a twelve-year-old to answer.

Not only is Relativity an emotionally compelling novel, but it’s also a smart one. I can’t speak to the actual physics that Hayes explores, but what she writes makes total metaphorical sense and adds a depth of meaning to her narrative. The universe of Ethan and Claire and Mark turns out to be quite remarkable. And the book I didn’t think I would like turned out to be one of the better novels I’ve read this season. Thank you, “Bookin’ with Sunny!”

Relativity is Antonia Hayes debut novel. Born in Sydney, Australia, she now lives in San Francisco.

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