Endlessly repeating images recur throughout the novel: People view a television screen in which they themselves appear; a detailed picture of the city is displayed in that same city. Mallon also achieves a confounding of perspective by compiling trivia that commands as much space in the text as events whose newsworthiness justifies their significance. Similarly, fictional characters inevitably attract more attention than the book’s historical personages, who include both John F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald. One suspects that Mallon is celebrating the generous, if indiscriminate, democratic impulse of American culture.
Point of view is splintered as well into various outcomes. Alternative speeches for the vice-president lie on his desk: one to be given if Aurora 7’s Scott Carpenter perishes, the other if he survives. The shifting perspectives—from outer space to Earth, from media report to actual event, from past to present to future—further convey a sense of contingency. Moreover, a feeling of expectancy animates the characters, a feeling Mallon manipulates to create an atmosphere of suspense. Why is Gregory Noonan, a space-obsessed twelve-year-old, compelled to cut class in the suburbs and make his way to the Grand Central Station concourse? What does a doubt-ridden priest hope to gain by a rendezvous with a radiant young art student? What is driving a Hispanic teenager to shift his course to the Port Authority Bus Terminal? Will astronaut Carpenter, who has overshot the targeted landing area by 250 miles, be rescued in time? The author raises the stakes by scattering religious allusions throughout the novel: the apple tree in the Noonan’s yard, snatches from the Roman Catholic catechism, the reconciliation of father and son.
Though it may not quite transcend the sum of its parts, this New Journalism-styled novel dazzles the reader with the array of information it presents. Too often contrived, AURORA 7 at times, when it conveys the inarticulate emotion that is the everyday experience of existential terror, manages to be moving as well.