Strong Motion

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Earthquakes are rare in Massachusetts, which is all the more reason the citizens are unnerved by a whole series of tremblers of less than 5.0 magnitude on the Richter Scale. These quakes change people’s lives the way war changed lives in Leo Tolstoy’s WAR AND PEACE and Margaret Mitchell’s GONE WITH THE WIND.

Franzen’s story focuses on twenty-three-year-old Louis Holland and thirty-year-old Renee Seitchek, who deduce that the earthquakes are not acts of God but are being created by the illegal pumping of hazardous waste materials deep underground via an abandoned oil well. The irony of the situation is that Louis’ mother has just inherited an estate valued at $22 million from her mother, who was knocked off a barstool by a quake while she was trying to reach a whiskey bottle, and most of the estate is in shares of stock in the company apparently responsible for the tremblers.

If Louis exposes the company, the stock may become worthless, and he will remain as poor as he has been all his life. Yet he is perversely delighted to assist Renee, a Harvard seismologist, with her investigation. Unknown to Louis, she has been promised a big reward if she can advise his mother whether to dump the chemical company’s stock. Renee is threatened by company representatives and finally shot in the back; nothing, however, can discourage her scientific zeal in pursuit of the truth.

Eventually the company is exposed as the cause of the...

(The entire section is 463 words.)