The Small Bang

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

THE SMALL BANG is full of small mysteries. The first is the identity of its author, who chose to use a pseudonym so that readers of this novel would have no prior expectations. That choice probably arose from the offbeat nature of the book. Subthemes include reincarnation, the physics of time, and marital infidelity.

One mystery within the plot is what Erich Sturmer, a Nobel candidate in physics, had discovered just before his disappearance. He had been sketching equations in the snow at an Alpine resort with the ski instructor, Siggy Geist, a student physicist. Sturmer’s shout brought down an avalanche, in which he and his equations disappeared. Sturmer’s widow, Chandra, had been sleeping with Geist. After Sturmer’s death, she lures Geist out into the snow and—perhaps— causes his death. This is another of the small mysteries. The early story involves trying to figure out what, if anything, Sturmer’s final equations meant, a task made more difficult by Geist’s death.

The book then takes a bizarre turn. Chandra, an Indian, and John Peake, a lawyer and Sturmer’s best friend, begin revisiting places they had been together with Sturmer, hoping to keep his memory alive. Chandra discovers that she is pregnant with twins, whose father may be either Geist or Sturmer. She halfheartedly believes in reincarnation, leading to a another mystery, that of whether Sturmer will somehow reappear, possibly as one of the twins. Adding to the spiritual ambiance of the story’s telling are frequent references to unusual triangles, from various relationships among trios of people to the “blue hypotenuse,” the dangerous and mysterious time of day in the Alps at which Sturmer disappeared. At the novel’s end, many of the small mysteries are unresolved and the message of the book remains obscured.