Carol's Reviews > Evidence of Things Unseen

Evidence of Things Unseen by Marianne Wiggins
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's review
Aug 14, 11

bookshelves: literary-fiction
Read from August 10 to 14, 2011

This beautiful novel concerns Fos and Opal, and, eventually, their son Lightfoot, and their lives in Tennessee during the first half of the 20th century. Interested in scientific phenomenon (especially those to do with luminescence), Fos returns from WWI and joins his friend Flash in running a photography studio in Knoxville. On a trip to North Carolina, Fos meets Opal, daughter of a glass blower and good with numbers. She becomes the book-keeper for the business. When tragedy and scandal destroy both Flash's life and the business, Fos and Opal briefly cling to a hard-scrabble life farming Opal's family land. Shortly after Lightfoot comes along, both Opal and Fos take up work with the Tennessee Valley Association, and then, at the outbreak of WWII, with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which was part of the Manhattan Project. When Opal falls ill from radiation exposure, Fos' faith in science and his sense of wonder at it are left in shambles. Their story thus intertwines with the scientific and technological progress of the United States during that era, as well as with its consequences.
Evidence of Things Unseen is a haunting and beautiful meditation on this scientific and technological progress, the optimism and improvements they can bring, and their dark and destructive sides. One of Wiggins' great achievements is her characterization of Fos and Opal - they are vivid and compelling while still remaining ordinary, everyday folks. They are not physicists or engineers, yet their lives are deeply involved with and affected by the scientific developments of the early 20th century. And that's where the crux of the novel lies - in what progress can both create and destroy on an ordinary level. There is wonder and there is horror in the things unseen, and they are there for everybody.
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