The Big Bang Symphony, Lucy Jane Bledsoe ’79.

During the January cold snap, the mercury dropped so low in Williamstown that the Outing Club cancelled a sledding trip. When I saw that announcement, I could only imagine how Lucy Jane Bledsoe, originally of the class of 1979, would have chronicled it. I doubt Bledsoe, who completed her final two undergraduate years at Berkeley, left because of the cold. In the years since, she’s emerged as a repeat visitor to a much colder place: Antarctica. (Although, to be fair to the Williamstown weather, the January 23 temperature of 13 degrees Fahrenheit was twenty degrees warmer. Of course, it was also the peak of summer).

A four-time finalist for the Lambda Literary Award and winner of the 2009 Sherwood Anderson Prize for Fiction, Bledsoe’s Antarctic writings have spanned a few genres: children’s literature, travel memoir, survival guide. In her latest novel, The Big Bang Symphony, Bledsoe returns to the bottom of the world for a deeply personal and moving novel. The Big Bang Symphony satisfyingly weaves together the commonplace and the sacred, portraying them through the lens of a dramatic setting and intriguing personalities.

Thanks to Dick for providing the photo, courtesy of Lucy

The novel unfolds from the alternating perspectives of each of three dynamic women on the ice for the summer as they become friends. Mikala is the composer whose hoped-for masterpiece forms the titular work. Suffering from writer’s block since the untimely death of her lover, she is drawn to Antarctica by competing forces of isolation and family. Alice, a socially-impaired geologist, is in Antarctica to free herself from the shackles of reason – for logical reasons. And Rosie is the Antarctic veteran, unsure whether her home now lies on the ice or off it.

As the characters struggle against the forces of nature and the forces of men (and women), readers are reminded of the elemental truth that we are ourselves creatures of nature. And that to survive, resilience is essential. It’s clear Bledsoe has come a long way from when she “used to wonder what it would be like to be lost in the woods or the mountains in inclement weather, and how I would survive.”

Although The Big Bang Symphony begins with a crash (or, more accurately, a hard landing), the first few chapters occasionally have a pedestrian feel. All those fans of The Wire who are endlessly encouraging others not to give up after the first few episodes should take that advice here – Bledsoe’s opening movement is laying the groundwork for the dramatic themes to follow. In the end, The Big Bang Symphony proves a satisfying tale, successfully linking its author’s love for the continent at the bottom of the world with her love for life in the rest of the world.

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