Hardcover: 448 pages
Publisher: William Morrow (August 4, 2020)
Praise for UNIVERSE OF TWO“Rarely does historical fiction get everything so right as Universe of Two: compelling characters, faithful detail, a story packed with unexpected twists, and a sure, authentic voice that never wavers. In this novel of the dawn of the atomic age and its profound consequences, Stephen Kiernan leads us along a journey of conscience as complex and infinite as the science itself.” —Beatriz Williams, New York Times bestselling author of The Golden Hour“Stephen Kiernan has pulled off the nearly impossible, reminding us by wrapping a war story in a love story that although we hold the power for our own extinction, we also have the power to redeem, heal, and save. The most tender, terrifying, relevant book you’ll read this year.” —Jenna Blum, New York Timesbestselling author of Those Who Save Us and The Lost Family“Based loosely on the life of mathematician and organ-maker Charles B. Fisk, this fascinating novel delves into the guilt and remorse that wracked him for his part in the development of the atomic bomb. . . . The two main characters are complex and flawed, but when they come together, their world is in harmony.” —Library Journal“Kiernan recreates the zeitgeist of America leading up to the atomic bomb on a national and personal level: the eager anticipation of wartime’s end, the grimly fascinating science, and the growing sense of guilt and dread. Simultaneously tender and hard-hitting, this riveting story offers much to reflect upon.” —Booklist
“Universe of Two skillfully educates, entertains and enlightens as great historical fiction should . . . . Masterfully researched and exquisitely told.” —The Patriot Ledger
From the critically acclaimed author of The Baker’s Secret and The Curiosity comes a novel of conscience, love, and redemption—a fascinating fictionalized account of the life of Charlie Fisk, a gifted mathematician who was drafted into Manhattan Project and ordered against his morals to build the detonator for the atomic bomb. With his musician wife, he spends his postwar life seeking redemption—and they find it together.
Graduating from Harvard at the height of World War II, brilliant mathematician Charlie Fish is assigned to the Manhattan Project. Working with some of the age’s greatest scientific minds, including J. Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and Leo Szilard, Charlie is assigned the task of designing and building the detonator of the atomic bomb.
As he performs that work Charlie suffers a crisis of conscience, which his wife, Brenda—unaware of the true nature of Charlie’s top-secret task—mistakes as self-doubt. She urges him to set aside his qualms and continue. Once the bombs strike Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the feelings of culpability devastate him and Brenda.
At the war’s end, Charlie receives a scholarship to pursue a PhD in physics at Stanford—an opportunity he and Brenda hope will allow them a fresh start. But the past proves inescapable. All any of his new colleagues can talk about is the bomb, and what greater atomic weapons might be on the horizon. Haunted by guilt, Charlie and Brenda leave Stanford and decide to dedicate the rest of their lives to making amends for the evil he helped to birth into the world.
Based on the life of the actual mathematician Charles B. Fisk, Universe of Two combines riveting historical drama with a poignant love story. Stephen Kiernan has conjured a remarkable account of two people struggling to heal their consciences and find peace in a world forever changed.
- What is on your nightstand?
Easily 25 books, and a good reading lamp that sat on a table in my childhood living room. Also a picture of my sons. Sometimes there is a guitar leaning against it.
- What author would you totally fan?
I’m lucky to have many writers as friends, and I fan them to themselves and publicly all the time. My secret crush, however, is the mayor of Rome. Look her up, you’ll see.
- What makes you cringe?
Every day I start my writing by revising what I wrote the day before. The idea is that by the time I reach a blank page, I am already immersed in the story and voice, I’m in the flow. But many mornings – most if not all of them – when I read the previous day’s pages, I see things that are so shallow, so badly worded, so predictable, I delete them as fast as I can. My own insufficiency makes me cringe every day.
- Do you obsessively plot out each point or just go with the flow?
I call it mosaic. That is, I have a very rough outline, with an idea about the ending that feels clear and fixed (and that rarely turns out to be the actual ending). And then ideas occur to me for various random places in the book. It might be one image, or a line of dialogue, or a reminder to use a motif I’m deploying elsewhere. I keep everything in a huge Word file. Every three weeks or so, I spend a day not writing, just arranging and moving and refining those random pieces. The result is a close outline for the next chapter or two, and that’s what I write from.
- Is there a word you love to use?
No, but I have nine words that I use too frequently. One early step in my rewriting is to do a search of each time one of them appears. I strike it – always, 100% of the time — and instead use a more specific and accurate word. I will never admit to what the nine of them are.
As a journalist and novelist, Stephen P. Kiernan has published nearly four million words. His newspaper work garnered more than forty awards — including the George Polk Award and the Scripps Howard Award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment.
Stephen’s newest novel, UNIVERSE OF TWO, will be out May 5, 2020. He is also author of the novels THE CURIOSITY (now in television series development), THE BAKER’S SECRET (a regional Indie bestseller), and THE HUMMINGBIRD. He has also written two nonfiction books, LAST RIGHTS and AUTHENTIC PATRIOTISM. His work has been translated into many languages.
Stephen was born in Newtonville, NY the sixth of seven children. A graduate of Middlebury College, he received a Master of Arts degree from Johns Hopkins University and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He has chaired the board of the Young Writers Project, served on the Vermont Legislative Committee on Pain and Palliative Care, and served on the advisory board of the New Hampshire Palliative Care Initiative. He has spoken and consulted around the country about hospice, palliative care and advance directives.
A performer on the guitar since he was ten years old, Stephen has recorded 3 CDs of solo instrumentals, and composed music for dance, the stage and documentary films.
He lives in Vermont with his two amazing sons.