A nuclear engineer, her nuclear family, and the risks of exploding
Becca Babcock is back with another novel, this time exploring themes of fear, motherhood, and the need to protect what we hold dear; our children and the earth we leave them, if, in fact, it still remains when we are gone. Nuclear disasters such as the events in Ukraine in 1986 and Japan in 2011 remain at the forefront of our memories, and though this book is fictional, the story itself is very real. Some There Are Fearless is thought-provoking and evocative, heartwarming, and at times, terrifying.
Perhaps this story frightens me most of all because I reside in an area where the top source of income is employment at Bruce Power, the nuclear power plant just fifteen minutes out of town. We give signed permissions at the beginning of each year for the schools to give our children iodine treatments if ever there is a nuclear spill. This nagging, underlying fear has kept me awake at night, so when Jessica Manchaky, the novel’s protagonist, says “I dream of Chernobyl.” I empathize all too well.
The novel begins with a basic physics lesson, which is a smart move on the part of the author. Without boring the reader, Babcock has given us a foundation on which the story unfolds, to help us better understand the intricacies of two interweaving plot lines: Jessica’s career and motherhood. Jessica is a nuclear engineer and finds her relationships to be difficult at times and is unable to put those emotions in a quantifiable box. She quickly realizes that love is not an exact science, something that can be understood by simple equations.
She struggles to understand this throughout the novel, with her overbearing mother, her husband, and especially her daughter Freya. Jessica is trapped by her own inability to control the world around her or to save her daughter from a life-threatening illness. This incessant need for control reminds us that, at times, we must learn to let go, to find joy in the unknowable.
Despite the deep themes of the novel, Babcock’s prose is often beautifully poetic. When Jessica is at her grandmother’s funeral, she reminisces about her Ukrainian relatives and their language, memories that have been forgotten. She says, “The sounds of the language made me taste butter and cream, and smell the sweet sharpness of garlic and cabbage and fried onions.” The imagery she uses draws you in, inviting the reader to see the softer side of Jessica’s character. She’s much more complex than we originally thought.
The novel brilliantly brings it all together in the end and leaves her characters with what we, as human beings, have always longed for: a safe place.
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