Evidence of Things Unseen

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Marianne Wiggins, author of six other novels and two short story collections, has written a magical love story about Opal and Fos who are the sort of ordinary people that one sees on a farm or walking on a city street and never notices. Fos, a World War I veteran whose eyes are damaged by mustard gas, is entranced by natural and scientific phenomena: the bioluminescence of algae in the sea, the Perseid meteor shower, x-rays, photography, and electricity. Opal, a North Carolina native whose father is a glassblower, understands numbers and the mechanics of automobile engines.

Together they face the loss of their employment in a photography shop when Flash—owner, war buddy, and close friend—is convicted under the Mann Law, endure the hard life of farming, grieve their inability to conceive a child but also celebrate parenthood with an abandoned Depression infant they will name Lightfoot, and serve their country at Oak Ridge Laboratory. Living in Tennessee, Opal and Fos are touched by the major events of the twentieth century: World War I, Prohibition, the Depression, the Scopes Trial in Dayton, the Tennessee Valley Authority’s rural electrification project, and the top secret nuclear research at Oak Ridge.

Nothing is ever simple. What provides benefits can also harm: TVA provides electricity but also floods family farms and grave sites, Fos’s beloved science betrays him when Opal falls sick from her exposure to x-rays, and the atomic fission research results in the death of noncombatants in Hiroshima.

Evidence of Things Unseen could be read for its luminescent prose alone or for the exact portrayal of Tennessee in the early twentieth century or for the voicing of ethical concerns that are unfortunately still relevant or just for the love story. In any case, the reader will not be disappointed.