Friendly Fallout 1953 is a curious combination of fiction and fact, a literary effort to bring together, under one cover, the topics of nuclear weapons, the testing that occurred in the State of Nevada, and the fictionalized stories of those involved.
Does it work? Yes, even if the reader does not first read the Author’s Notes (a cheat sheet for background information re the characters) before beginning the stories. It not only works, it works well. The science told throughout the book is a constant. The characters in the stories are the variables, giving life and depth to the overall telling of the atomic testing that took place between January 1 and June 4, 1953, in the southwest deserts of Nevada.
Ronald’s storytelling is both realistic and evocative. She depicts men and women, young and old, professionals and working stiffs with warmth, humor and respect in compact vignettes that give each atomic test its own reality check. This is a book that begs for a sequel. The reader wants to know what happened to the miner who would not take cover; the Indian family sent back to their res without being told the truth about their contamination; the soldiers in the trenches who were mistakenly led back onto ground zero after the bomb exploded; the sheep rancher who had to weigh his patriotism against the fate of his ewes and their misshapen lambs; or the soldier whose neck was seared from exposure; and finally, the Mormon community that was contaminated?
The author drops her facts as if little bombs themselves. Like the fact that for each bomb dropped the government invited hundreds to view the event (pols, newsmen, even a group of nuns) from a safe distance, of course, and always with explicit instructions for their personal safety. The reader cannot fail to think of how quickly today such testing would be put before the judgment of a public of millions through Facebook and Twitter. The role of women comes sharply to mind when thinking about how much more vocal today’s wives and mothers would be about their suspicions. And when remembering Liz, the young daughter who accompanied her veterinarian father to the sheep ranch, the reader might want to know how many female veterinarians are today practicing in the State of Nevada. Other factors and questions remain, at least for this reader. What possible long term effects did the tests have on Nevada’s soil and water? Do we know the environmental effects of the underground tests?
Friendly Fallout 1953 offers today’s younger readers a chance to understand how a generation of Americans, less than ten years from the end of WWII, could so willingly accept the government’s insistence on the necessity for such testing. For the older reader, it’s a chance to remember with a lot more clarity. The issues of patriotism, morality and science continue to confound modern society. Ann Ronald, a member of the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame, has masterfully told the story of an atomic slice of the year 1953 in a way that should capture the imagination of all Americans.