Monday, May 31, 2010


I wish I had written a post about Bellwether by Connie Willis last night at 10:30 when I finished it. I am still loving it in retrospect, but last night I was so hopped up on happy juice from its ending (and really just the whole thing was a joy to read) that I ran downstairs and interrupted Ickie at work to gush about it, and then when I went back to bed, I was too excited to sleep, my brain just zipping around happily.

is an ideal quick, witty, and just-thought-provoking-enough summer read. It's the story of Sandy, a statistician studying fads (specifically, the origins of hair bobbing in the 20s), who works for the bureaucratic HiTek corporation in Boulder, Colorado. Colorado is the perfect setting to poke fun at quirky trends in the 90s--all themed restaurants and surly GenXers--and HiTek is a hilarious nightmare of mock-worthy management trends. Sandy meets Bennett, a chaos theorist seemingly immune to fads. It's a pleasure to follow Sandy and Ben's burgeoning partnership, as they have a deep intellectual connection as well as a shared sense of humor (and familiarity with the poetry of Robert Browning--Willis always gives literature a nod, which goes to show you that even scientists & mathematicians need it). Sandy and Ben's research misadventures are a hoot, and their exasperating coworkers make them even more likable by comparison.

Many of Willis's common themes appear in Bellwether; among them are chaos theory (with life events reflecting mental confusion), tip-of-the-tongue (or mind) sensation, a combination of sociological and scientific perspectives, and historical anecdotes that enrich the story. Each chapter begins with an excerpt about the life and death of a particular fad (most of them are quite amusing), and Sandy and Bennett spend much of their time making references to the circumstances in which famous scientists made discoveries/had epiphanies. There are several great "A-ha!" moments, and at least one pleasing final revelation I didn't see coming.

Writing a novel about fads and chaos theory is inspired. It's so completely original, don't you think? And writing it so well is even more impressive! The fads provide just enough low-brow appeal whereas the discussion of chaos theory is just enough physics to excite my ignorant brain. The resolution of the themes and characters is positively giddy-making! Thus far I have yet to be disappointed by my new favorite author, and I'm delving right into her short story collection, Fire Watch.


Felix said...

Ohhhhh ... how can I resist?

As a statistician with a history of Boulder connexions, how can I resist a recommendation from a gold chip source?

OK, OK, I've ordered it :-)

Felix said...

Courtesy call

Felix said...

Oops ... the "courtesy call" link doesn't seem to work.

Yer 'tis: