Alan Lightman’s second attempt at fiction is a tremendous success. This novel is at times funny, and at times painfully poignant, but always captivating. GOOD BENITO is the life-story of Bennett, a mediocre physicist who is disappointed in many of his life-dreams and desires. Yet, in the end, he learns somehow to combine the orderly world of physics he finds so fulfilling and the chaotic world of his life into a vision that offers him a partial resolution and contentment.
Bennett’s life is moored on disappointments. His father is distant, only a shadow of the man who went off the World War II to be a hero. He loves his uncle but can not help the dependent, lonely, gambler that he becomes. Bennett’s marriage, which began in such hope and love, dissolves into helpless imprisonment from which only a cruel divorce is the answer. His career never takes off, leaving him a mediocre professor of physics at a second-rate college. Yet Bennett never becomes tragic, merely ordinary. Perhaps this is why the novel is so poignant and moving; the reader can easily sympathize with Bennett’s experiences. By the end, the author leaves the reader and Bennett with a heightened awareness of the contradictions between what we want to do or should do and what we eventually end up doing in our lives.
This reflective and profound story combined with a sparse and eloquent prose style of the author results in a remarkable novel. After finishing GOOD BENITO, readers will eagerly await Alan Lightman’s future works of fiction.