It’s been weeks since I finished Lydia Netzer’s Shine Shine Shine — weeks since I flipped the last audio disc to allow Netzer’s zany, often beautiful story to unfold. I’m usually someone who sets fingers to keys immediately after finishing a novel, wanting to capture my thoughts before they escape, but something about this one felt different. I had to process. I just . . . couldn’t talk about it immediately.
And I’m still not sure I can. This novel is memorable, complicated, engrossing. At times, it’s very bizarre and frustrating; at other moments, it feels transcendent and incredibly lovely. During the audio experience (narrated by Joshilyn Jackson — woo!), there were boring points at which I wanted to abandon the novel, especially when Maxon was the focus . . . but then we’d come back to Earth, back to Sunny, and I couldn’t believe I’d ever wanted to leave these characters.
So what is Shine Shine Shine about? Family, first and foremost: the one we create for ourselves. Maxon and Sunny Mann share many of the same struggles as other couples. With an autistic son and complicated, intertwined past, their lives are far from perfect — though Sunny desperately wishes it were so. Born with a condition that prevents her from growing any hair, bald-and-beautiful Mrs. Mann has worked to hide her “real” identity behind gorgeous, flowing wigs in adulthood. But as Maxon, an astronaut also on the autistic spectrum, heads into space, being left alone with Bubber — and the accompanying crash from her perfect bubble world — is eye-opening.
The story is about so much more than that, of course, but that’s the jist. Netzer has created two vivid, faceted and difficult characters in Sunny and Maxon. At times hard to like but often easy to love, I was drawn into the pair’s love story — which stretches back to childhood — and entranced by the white-picket-fence Sunny worked to construct. She’s crippled with anxiety about her baldness, forced by a loving mother to embrace this “flaw” in her youth . . . but she can’t stand the thought of being an outcast in Virginia, where the Manns move with Bubber, or of being his strange, bald mother. With Maxon’s brilliance but social difficulties and Sunny’s own sense of “otherness,” the pair could be an easy target for their neighbors in Norfolk . . . but Sunny works hard to let few get a peek inside their family. The wig stays intact.
Until it doesn’t.
Did I like this story? Yes, I think I did. I didn’t love it because, somehow, I could never completely engage with the scientific side of Maxon’s story. As a noted scientist and head of a robotics unit planning to colonize the moon, he’s just so
. . . clinical. This is to be expected, of course — and I appreciated the points Netzer makes about life, humanity and death. Maxon’s character is the opposite of Sunny, who lives up to her name; she’s bright, effusive, active. I loved when she was the focus of the story. But Maxon in space? Bleh. So boring.
But that’s just me. If you’re a fan of offbeat contemporary fiction, stories of modern families or someone interested in space and human dynamics and the frailty of it all (and who isn’t, eh?!), Shine Shine Shine is an entertaining, quirky read I’d recommend to those looking for something a little bit different.
3.5 out of 5!