Title: Approaching the Speed of Light
Author: Victoria Lustbader. She is the author of two previous novels, including Stone Creek. Before becoming a writer she was an editor of science-fiction novels.
Genre: Commercial Fiction
Readers: Professor Michal, prosecutor Rochelle, project manager Andrea and stay-at-home moms Dana and Megan V.
Summary: Jody is a likable young man getting by in New York City at the turn of the millennium. On the surface, he seems to have it together, with friends, family, a decent job, and a steady string of girlfriends. But a secret history has left Jody scarred and broken inside, lacking faith in the future or himself. Like the ceaseless pull of a black hole, his buried secrets hold him back, defining him, until his trajectory crosses the path of three very different women, who, in their own ways, hold out the tantalizing possibility of healing, connection . . . or self-destruction.
Our Take: A strong and resonant novel with complex characters that explores real emotional depth. Not a terribly light or happy read, but most of our readers found it worth their while.
It took me a little while to get into “Approaching the Speed of Light” (and it wasn’t just because my e-galley had large copyright notices on every single page.). However, Lustbader drew me in with complex story with well-written characters and a compelling story. Everything seemed kind of on the surface at first but before I knew it, Lustbader has drawn me into the lives and thoughts of these characters, who really drive the entire story. I found myself making judgements about many of the characters that later turned out to be unfounded and I almost felt myself developing alongside the characters.
The change in narration was a bit jarring at first but the content of the changed narration, especially the stories written to one of the characters, were extremely well-done. However, the situation described in these stories got worst and worst and at one point, when I knew what was about to happen, I closed my eyes for a minute to try and compose myself before reading on. The best thing about Approaching the Speed of Light was definitely the characters and how they all, in their own ways, worked towards coming out of the various tragedies that they found themselves wrestling with.
That being said, the ending saddened me. I thought there were other alternatives and I’m disappointed at the ending Lustbader chose. However, I also respect her for not taking the easy or the feel-good way out and as much as I usually hate sequels, I would not necessarily be opposed to continuing to find out what happens with some of these characters.
Had it not been for the slightly rough beginning, I would have probably read the book in one or two sittings. Once it became clear where things were heading, nothing could stop me from finding out what would actually happen.
Lustbader’s writing is fluid, eloquent, and really invites the reader to get lost in the world she is writing. She has a way with her descriptions that subtly forces you to visualize the scenes through the main narrator, Jody’s, eyes. As the story and characters develop, we learn to like Jody not because Lustbader tells us he’s a sensitive, caring, intuitive guy, but because she shows us. The reader’s impression of his character develops through the way he sees other people and his relationships, how he acts in and reacts to situations.
In seeing his world through his eyes, it is evident Jody is an intuitive and intelligent guy who also has dark threads that run deep, that question whether he is coping with his past memories and experiences or being ruled by them. In writing unflinchingly about such gritty, alarmingly common (and undisclosed) realities for so many around us, and humanizing the experience by presenting us with such a sympathetic character, Approaching the Speed of Light is a brave and necessary contribution to the mainstream consciousness and discourse on gender-based and domestic violence.
While Lustbader’s writing is excellent, and the novel is thought provoking and informative about the darker sides of the human experience, there were some problems, while seemingly minor and cursory, which contribute to a widespread culture of judgment and permissiveness of gender-based violence, that can’t go unaddresed. First, there was a Halloween scene that wasn’t necessary for the rest of the novel or its themes that was transphobic. The scene was sort of random, and then involved no unpacking or context to even try to justify it. Then towards the end of the novel, one man who participated in the gang rape of an unconscious teenager was described as “Innately decent” because he tried to talk to and please the unconscious girl he was raping. Very unfortunate choice of words. While the novel isn’t explicitly marketed as being survivor focused, there is no question of that intent given the tone and content. The flippant use of these sentiments in that context unfortunately stuck with me, and colored my overall impression of the book enough to lower my rating.
Note: While this doesn’t reflect on the rating of this book, it is worth mentioning that there are some vivid depictions of sexual assault and child abuse, as well as violence and drug use, that are not for everyone. And, many pages of which would trigger some people who I’m sure would appreciate the heads up before reading the book.
I really wanted to like this book. The first few chapters had led me to believe it would have some ties in sci-fi and so I kept reading. However, it seems as though Jody (the main character) is merely just someone who sees himself as an almost human. He has a functional persona that he turns on and off as necessary but also has an underlying dark and twisted side that he only is able to release subconsciously in sleep or through forced memory recalls.
I wasn’t able to get through the entire book as I felt like it was just running towards and inevitable non-conclusion. I never felt engaged or caught up in the book – something that I consider a definite requirement in my reading choices – and wasn’t even inclined to read it, even when I had extra time on my hands. Even when I had less than 100 pages to go.
While its not suited particularly to me, I’m sure there are some people out there who would appreciate the complex and wounded character of Jody and his sordid past as he attempts to find love and acceptance from a woman who believes him to be her reincarnated dead fiancé.
I read Lustbader’s book Hidden and enjoyed it, so I was looking forward to reading her newest novel. It didn’t disappoint. Her intense and eloquent writing made Jody the most complex, wounded character I have ever connected with in a book. I had a physical reaction while reading; my stomach was in knots at times and I finished with a lump in my throat. Relationships have the power to hurt and destroy, heal and renew – and Lustbader explores this beautifully. Can love heal all wounds, or are some beyond repair? This novel is a heavy (but hopeful) read, and I could not put it down, particularly for the last third of the book.
There were segments that got a little too transcendental for my taste, but I was willing to go with it for the sake of the story. Lustbader’s technique of occasionally switching narration from Jody to other characters allowed the reader to gain a different perspective, and this really contributed to the depth of understanding and the impact of the story. However, there were a few characters that I felt were not developed enough, and I was left wanting to know more.
Did I like it? It’s difficult to say that a book dealing with such painful topics is one I liked, but it is a book that I am so glad I read. It made me think, it made me feel, and it was one of those books you close at the end with a contented sigh.
Having never read any of Victoria Lustbader’s work in the past, I didn’t begin Approaching The Speed of Light with any preconceived expectations. Lustbader’s characters are well developed and compelling, especially considering the heavy subject matter. I was drawn to Jody from the beginning. I typically enjoy a more ‘feel good’ ending to a book with such depth of emotion, but appreciate the reality with which Lustbader writes. I’m always a little nervous when narration changes in a story, but Lustbader manages it well, and it offers a deeper understanding to the characters. I think Lustbader does an excellent job of drawing the reader in while exploring difficult and painful relationships. It is definitely a book that begs to be discussed.