A Hole In Texas

by Herman Wouk

Published by Little, Brown & Company

288 pages, 2004


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Love, Politics and Subatomic Particles

Reviewed by Linda L. Richards

 

In reviewing A Hole In Texas, it seems significant to note that Herman Wouk's first novel, Aurora Dawn, was published in 1947: 56 years ago. Also significant: he was 32 years old at the time. Wouk received the Pulitzer Prize for The Caine Mutiny, which was published in 1951. As I write this, Wouk is just days shy of his 89th birthday. (He was born on May 27th, 1915.)

Though Wouk is brushing against his ninth decade, A Hole In Texas illustrates that this author continues to understand the zeitgeist. This should really be no surprise. Always an admired storyteller, it follows that he understands what concerns us and what people care about. Not only does he engage us with his tale, his wit is as rich and ripe as it was a half century ago.

A Hole In Texas is spare and modern and -- with a few exceptions -- fresh of voice and thought. The story centers around Guy Carpenter, a respected American physicist with a wife, a young child and a prestigious though low profile job at NASA. Years before, Guy was a key component on a huge government-funded project called the Superconducting Super Collider. The project concerned itself with proving something that had only been theorized: the existence of the Higgs boson, a subatomic particle that could be used for good as well as evil.

The American Superconducting Super Collider project was canned over a decade before our story begins: the result of politics and fund shuffling. Aside from the few super geeks who worked on it and the Texas town it injected, for a realively short time, with jobs and cash, it's a project that has long been forgotten. As the book begins, however, all hell is breaking loose. The Chinese claim to have isolated the Higgs boson. And it turns out that the scientist at the lead of the Chinese project is a woman with whom Guy had an affair in college.

Wouk's handling of the potentially sleep-inducing particle theories is light and brilliant. One comes away from A Hole In Texas feeling as though they know a little bit more about the field and knowing as well that this author did his homework.

Much of the science comes to us through Guy's lucid explanations to an attractive congresswoman in a position to champion Guy's causes, past and present. It's an elegant plot device. Guy is known to be able to explain high science in layman terms and, as he makes Myra understand, we see him as more human. And we begin to understand the science, as well:

Alone with Congresswoman Myra Kadane in this rundown Georgetown house, recumbent on a dingy old sofa, Guy Carpenter realized that he was feeling extremely pleased with himself. For him, this was an unheard-of state of mind. All that beer? Her shiny-eyed interest in his words? Those fetching legs displayed by a very short skirt?

"Okay, Myra," he went on, sipping the tinkling drink she handed him. "That was it. Digging down to those four particles -- atom, electron, proton, neutron -- ended a global war and opened a new age. What heroes the physicists were when I was growing up, and was I ever hooked on the field in college! Physics! The ultimate truth about the world, the unleasher of ultimate energy! The sexy science with the blue-sky budgets!" He smiled at her. "You're a good listener, Congresswoman. Here we are at the cosmic rays."

The seemingly disparate elements of A Hole In Texas combine to make a fascinating, highly readable tale. Wouk here blends contemporary politics, science, media and a touch of Hollywood with a middle class domestic life and the slightest hint of romance. Boiled down, it makes for a perfect combination: the exotic and unfamiliar blended with elements that will make most readers feel at home. | May 2004

 

Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.