Roberta Brown-Jones, Nederland. For better or worse, I seem to be viewing everything these days through a political lens. So, when I picked up Lilly Brooks-Dalton’s debut novel Good Morning, Midnight my reading of it was informed by the current political climate of the U.S. and the world.
Brooks-Dalton’s novel is an exploration of what the experience of being the last survivors of a devastated planet would be. She examines the idea of where to find meaning when one knows there is no society to share knowledge with and no foreseeable possibility of leaving a legacy for anyone.
The novel’s plot unfolds through the experience of Sully, a female astronaut and part of the crew of a spaceship returning from a two-year mission to explore Jupiter. During their return trip, the crew’s communication with Earth mysteriously goes silent and they slowly realize that something catastrophic has occurred.
Meanwhile, on Earth, Augustine, an aging astronomer in the Arctic is doing research. After learning of humanity’s impending doom, he chooses to be left where he is as his fellow researchers board the last plane out. He ends up being the only human being left on Earth, until he finds a stowaway—8-year-old Iris. I won’t spoil the plot, but Iris comes to be a central figure in the workings of the storyline, weaving together connections between characters.
Brooks-Dalton beautifully describes the allure of space and the stark beauty of the Arctic. Along the way, she analyzes the draw of ambition and contrasts this with the need for connection. She delves into aging and the reassessments that come during the last stages of life, describing how people can awaken to the vividness of feeling even as they are approaching death.
The author employs strong female characters enjoying and excelling in space science. She also highlights female aspirations and the fact that motherhood is not the only path to fulfillment for women. Literature that expands the assumptions of what it means to be female is much needed, given the current assault on reproductive choice for women. Sully demonstrates that motherhood isn’t a suitable choice for some women and that one’s calling can be stronger than the draw toward parenting.
Gender norms are further realigned with male characters who have maternal instincts and who are better at parenting than females. In addition, Sully and Devi, the two female astronauts from the six-person mission, are the crew members most able and qualified to do life-saving repairs when their spaceship experiences a mechanical failure. The crew (Russian, South African, Indian, Israeli, and American) reflects the diversity of the scientific community, and each member’s expertise and temperament enhance the welfare of the crew.
Another theme the author explores is our relationship with animals, emphasizing the connections we should have with them. Ultimately, the need to consider humans as part of the landscape, not as conquerors of nature, is emphasized.
Good Morning, Midnight is worth reading if only to get a sense of what it would be like to live on a space station or in an isolated place like the Arctic. Given the current state of affairs globally and the frightening possibility of nuclear war with North Korea, this book hits home and forces the reader to envision the experience of being a survivor of a destroyed planet.
Roberta Brown-Jones is a Library Assistant at the Nederland Community Library.