Friday, July 6, 2012

"A Theory of Small Earthquakes," by Meredith Maran

I have seen Meredith Maran's journalistic writing in The San Francisco Chronicle and other periodicals for some years now. I also read her thoughtful and revealing 2001 nonfiction book about the lives and issues of students at Berkeley High School, "Class Dismissed." She has now published her first novel, "A Theory of Small Earthquakes" (Soft Skull Press, 2012). One reason I read it was that much of it takes place in Berkeley, just across the Bay from here, and it is always enjoyable to read novels set in places one knows pretty well. But beyond that, the novel is a story of the times -- of the past 30 years -- with much context about social issues during that time. In particular, it is the story of two women who met at college and fell in love, moved to Berkeley, decided to have a child, and then...well, I don't want to give away the plot, but it involves another character, a child, a family mystery, much drama, lifelong friendships, and the changing times. And the "earthquakes" of the title? One of the characters, normally fearless, is very afraid of earthquakes, and falls apart each time a small earthquake occurs, which is fairly often in California. She is partially reassured by the theory that small earthquakes release pressure and therefore lower the risk of larger earthquakes. This novel is very readable, with strong and interesting characters and a good balance of a compelling story and the addressing of social issues.

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