By: Stephen P. Kiernan

Published: August 4, 2020

Publisher: William Morrow

Historical Fiction

I am always thrilled to promote writers that have participated in the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Kiernan has built a reputation for writing novels set during various wars and has received much praise for his writing. I was eager to read his sixth book, set during WWII, but with a much different viewpoint than many other WWII books I’ve read.

Charlie Fish is a math whiz. He began working in Chicago on various math formulas for his uncle, mostly to avoid combat. While in Chicago, he wanders into an organ shop and falls head over heels for Brenda, the daughter of the organ shop owner. Her father and brother are off fighting the war and Brenda and her mom were left behind to run the shop.

Their romance blooms (mostly on Charlie’s end) amid the organ shop where Charlie likes to tinker with the organs and Brenda likes to play. Brenda isn’t quite sure about Charlie but thinks he is sweet, but not quite as exciting as the other soldiers roaming around Chicago. But, when Charlie is suddenly sent to New Mexico to begin work on a top-secret and sensitive project, the Manhattan Project, Brenda starts to realize that maybe Charlie Fish was just the kind of man she needed in her life.

Charlie is a sweet and innocent man who does as he is told and doesn’t ask a lot of questions. His character is based on the real man assigned to work on the atomic bomb. Kiernan read about this man and knew there was a novel brewing there. I really loved Charlie’s character. He was a good man who just wanted to please people whether it was his uncle, his new boss, or Brenda. He was a hard worker who didn’t stop until he got it done right. Unfortunately, he was also quite naive. He didn’t realize he was creating detonators for an atomic bomb until it was nearly time to test the final product. By then it was too late and Charlie would forever have to live with the results of detonating the atomic bomb. Even though Charlie was praised as a hero by many, he felt like a murderer.

I think the author hit on so many themes with this novel and showed readers a much different side to the war than anything I’ve ever read before. The story is told from Brenda’s perspective as an older woman looking back on her life with Charlie. You’ll find out why she is reminiscing at the end of the novel. It is quite obvious the author did extensive research on the Manhattan project as well as on organs. Plus, the fact that this story (with fictional liberties) is based on real people makes it even more fascinating.

The author paid a lot of attention to detail (maybe at times a bit too much) but I found much to love about this story including the relationships the author explored between Brenda and her mom, Brenda and Charlie, and Charlie and his fellow project mates. The descriptions of the city of Chicago, the bus ride from Chicago to New Mexico, and the dry hot air of Los Alamos made them jump off the pages into my mind as I read.

I found myself researching more about these infamous days in history as the atomic bombs were deployed and the ramifications afterward. My heart ached for Charlie in the novel and gave me a much different perspective on the men behind the bombs during WWII. Kiernan is a talented writer and I look forward to checking out his backlist of novels.

About Stephen P. Kiernan

UNIVERSE OF TWO (May 2020) is Stephen P. Kiernan’s sixth publication, following the novels THE BAKER’S SECRET (2017), THE CURIOSITY (2013) and THE HUMMINGBIRD (2015), and two works of nonfiction, LAST RIGHTS (2006), and AUTHENTIC PATRIOTISM (2010). Together with his work as a journalist, he has earned more than 40 writing awards, including the George Polk Award and the National Journalism Award (Scripps-Howard). A graduate of Middlebury College, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop, he has worked at the Breadloaf School of English and the Breadloaf Writers Conference. A longtime board member of the Young Writers Project, he lives in Vermont. Check out his website, HERE.

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