From the author of Setting Fires, Kate Wenner, comes the tale of a young woman so scarred by her childhood that she has spent the last handful of years traveling the world, reluctant to put down roots anywhere or connect with anyone.
Marea Hoffman, named by her brilliant scientist father for the dark seas of the moon, can’t come to terms with her past. Her father helped build bombs - big ones, during the Manhattan Project and The Cold War. While other kids shivered through the mandatory bomb preparations of kneeling beneath a desk and shielding their heads, Marea had to wonder if the words her mother often spat at her father would prove to be true. Her father was building the bombs that would eventually destroy the world.
Marea’s fondest memories of childhood were her Sunday afternoon nature hikes with her father, and the times she spent Einstein. Yes, Einstein.
Down the hall from her father, Einstein worked and eventually took notice of Jonas Hoffman. The two crafted a sort-of love/hate relationship– they had opposite stands on the furthering of nuclear technology and war in general– yet they still managed to respect the scientist in each of them.
Einstein visited the Hoffman house frequently – maybe too frequently. Marea’s mother found an ally in Einstein, Marea doted on him, and Jonas began to feel left out. The situation deteriorated until Einstein left one afternoon and never came back. Marea’s father was to do the same a few years later.
Now, almost two decades later, Marea has the suspicion that it is time to settle the past, to cement herself to people and places instead of wandering the globe like a vagabond. She returns to New York City, gets a job at a bakery and begins seeing, not one, but four therapists– each with their own take on the therapeutic process.
Marea’s job as night-help in a bakery is almost as entertaining as the sessions with her therapists. The bakery’s owner, Andrew Martin, can best be described as a philosophical baker and has a unique way of looking at everything. His off-beat comparisons between facets of baking and psychology are a constant source of enlightenment. Of his time spent trying to make soy milk, Andrew said, "I kept letting it turn to yogurt. I think I identify with things that need to go through a process of fermentation. When I found yeast and bread, I found my true happiness. I’m a ruminator. Things take time to grow on me."
Dancing with Einstein is a well-crafted, poignant literary novel that leaves the reader with a sense of empathy, understanding and forgiveness. The pace is perfect, with just the precise amount of details to build the story without weighing it down. The central characters are flawed, but with good reason, which makes them very human and real.
When reading this novel, I had to remind myself that it is a work of fiction, not a real account of one family’s close relationship with nuclear war and the esteemed Einstein. I guess that is the mark of a great novel – suspended disbelief.