Shine Shine Shine (Netzer)

Shine Shine Shine
Lydia Netzer, 2012
St. Martin's Press
320 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781250007070

When Maxon met Sunny, he was seven years, four months, and eighteen-days old. Or, he was 2693 rotations of the earth old. Maxon was different. Sunny was different. They were different together.

Now, twenty years later, they are married, and Sunny wants, more than anything, to be “normal.” She’s got the housewife thing down perfectly, but Maxon, a genius engineer, is on a NASA mission to the moon, programming robots for a new colony. Once they were two outcasts who found unlikely love in each other: a wondrous, strange relationship formed from urgent desire for connection. But now they’re parents to an autistic son. And Sunny is pregnant again. And her mother is dying in the hospital. Their marriage is on the brink of imploding, and they’re at each other’s throats with blame and fear. What exactly has gone wrong?

Sunny wishes Maxon would turn the rocket around and come straight-the-hell home.

When an accident in space puts the mission in peril, everything Sunny and Maxon have built hangs in the balance. Dark secrets, long-forgotten murders, and a blond wig all come tumbling to the light. And nothing will ever be the same.…

A debut of singular power and intelligence, Shine Shine Shine is a unique love story, an adventure between worlds, and a stunning novel of love, death, and what it means to be human. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1971-72
Where—Detroit, Michigan, USA
Education—B.A. Bowling Green State University
Currently—lives in Norfolk, Virginia

In her words:
I was born in Detroit and raised by two public school teachers. We lived in Michigan during the school year, and at an old farm in the hills of western Pennsylvania during school vacations. My world revolved around horses, music, and books. I went to college and grad school in the midwest, met my husband and got married in Chicago, and then moved to Norfolk when we decided to have kids. We have two: a boy and a girl. I homeschool them and taxi them to orchestra rehearsal, the karate dojo, the pony farm, and many music lessons. At our homeschool co-op I teach literature, and I love to travel, knit, play my electric guitar, and of course read. (From the author's website.)

Shine, Shine, Shine is Lydia's first book; her second is How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky (2014).

Book Reviews
Over the moon with a metaphysical spin.  Heart-tugging…it is struggling to understand the physical realities of life and the nature of what makes us human….Nicely unpredictable…Extraordinary.
Janet Maslin -  New York Times

There are certain novels that are just twisty, delightfully so. Shine, Shine, Shine is one. In this first novel, Lydia Netzer takes a hard look at being completely human through the eyes of two people who are kinda not…Shine, Shine, Shine may ask an old question. But Netzer’s answer to how to be who you are is fresh from the heart.
New York Daily News

The novel traces Maxon and Sunny’s relationship from their childhoods in Burma and Appalachia to outer space, revealing the futility of chasing an ideal of what’s normal…Shine Shine Shine breaks free of the gravitational pull of traditional romantic cliches.
Washington Post

Lydia Netzer’s luminous debut novel concerns what lies beneath society’s pretty surfaces—Sunny’s congenital hairlessness, her husband’s remoteness, their son’s autism. What makes it unexpectedly moving is how skillfully Netzer then peels back those layers, finding heartbreaking depth even in characters who lack ordinary social skills.
Boston Globe

This is a novel about the strangeness of being human. Lydia Netzer says she wrote it when she was pregnant with her first child and feeling "paralysed with fear that I was too weird, too self-absorbed, too unskilled to have a child, and that whatever baby had the bad luck to be born of my uterus would be permanently scarred by my failings." Hopefully, she feels better now. Or at least, a lot less alone in her imagined weirdness. After meeting Sunny and Maxon, I know I do.
Independent (UK)

Netzer has penned a modern take on alienation, building a family, making connections—creating memorable characters and an odd, idiosyncratic, but highly believable narrative along the way.
Toronto Star

[Sunny and Maxon’s] peculiarities form an endearing story in Shine Shine Shine, Norfolk resident Lydia Netzer's first—and amazingly inventive—novel.... Netzer's munificence of spirit lights her story with compassion.... Shine Shine Shine transcends not only geography, whether in Burma, Pennsylvania, Norfolk or outer space, but also the science and the struggles, the weirdness and the woe; it aims straight for the heart and the humanity that unites us all. Netzer, whose imagination knows no limits, infuses her debut with love—and reminds us that normalcy can be vastly overrated.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Shine, Shine, Shine is a novel…but “Shine, Shine, Shine” could easily refer to Netzer’s writing abilities, the way she handles the craft of storytelling, and the way her novel captures and holds the reader’s attention…Netzer is a master storyteller. She leads the reader through a landscape full of beauty and charged with pitfalls, actual and emotional, while holding your eyes to the page, and your fingers itching to turn to the next page
Virginian Pilot

Not only entertaining, but nuanced and wise…blending wit and imagination with an oddly mesmerizing, matter-of-fact cadence, Netzer’s debut is a delightfully unique love story and a resounding paean to individuality.
People (A People Pick)

From a distance, Netzer’s confident debut is the tale of “an astronaut lost in space, and the wife he left behind.” At its core, it is the story of the power of love to overcome the great accidents of the universe. Sunny was born totally hairless. Her husband, Maxon, is a rocket scientist, and together they have an autistic son named Bubber. It appears they live a normal suburban life in Virginia— Sunny wears a long blond wig and Bubber is medicated to keep him calm. But after Maxon leaves for a space expedition, a car accident reveals Sunny’s hairlessness to her friends and neighbors. Being outed causes Sunny to re-examine her life, and she begins to come to terms with herself as different but special. Meanwhile, Maxon’s expedition is jeopardized when a tiny rock “that had been hiding behind the moon” slams into his spaceship. As he and his crew struggle to survive, and Sunny embraces her family’s peculiarities, Netzer deftly illuminates the bonds that transcend shortcomings and tragedy. Characterized by finely textured emotions and dramatic storytelling, Netzer’s world will draw readers happily into its orbit.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review.) Sunny is the perfect wife leading the perfect life in small-town Virginia, with a husband she's managed to make look pretty standard-issue, too, though he's a brainy-to-distraction astronaut slated to help colonize the moon. Then a minor car crash sends Sunny's blonde wig flying, revealing that she's bald, and the normalcy these two have built up since meeting as oddball children starts to tumble. Lots of in-house enthusiasm for what seems to be a juicily wacky and engaging first novel.
Library Journal

Netzer's debut, about a heavily pregnant woman left to care for her dying mother and autistic son while her Nobel-winning husband travels to the moon, takes the literary concept of charmingly quirky characters to a new level.... While [Maxon] faces a crisis in space that shows him how much his relationships on earth matter, Sunny stops wearing her wig, medicating Bubber to control him and maintaining Emma endlessly on life support. She drops her pretense of normality, only to realize that there may be no such thing as normal; everyone wears a metaphorical wig. Talky uplift and a self-congratulatory tone bog down the novel, but through compelling characters, Netzer raises a provocative question: Is autism a disability, a gift or the norm of the future?
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Is Emma a good mother?

2. What might Sunny's life have been like if she had never gotten pregnant, and therefore never felt the need to put on the wig?

3. Was Sunny culpable for Paul Mann's death?

4. Do you agree with Rache that everyone has their baldness, or do you think those perfect housewives actually exist?

5. Perhaps Maxon was better off without his dad, but do you think Sunny was negatively affected by growing up without a father?

6. If you wrote a letter to your child, to be read only after your death, what would it say?

7. The book suggests that raising any child is like programming a robot, with scripted replies, ritual behaviors, and reinforced responses. Do you agree?

8. Emma did not want Sunny to marry Maxon. Why? And was she right?

9. Do you think that Sunny seriously considered Les Weathers as a replacement for Maxon, if he should die?

10. Where would you prefer to live: the perfect house in a respectable neighborhood in a historic city, or a strange farmhouse in the wilds of an eccentric rural county?

11. What changes have you made to fit in to a new role you've taken on, whether it's parenthood, a new job, or a marriage?

12. Do you think that motherhood fundamentally changes a woman, or do you think it's possible to hold on to the person you were before kids?

13. Why did Emma bring Sunny back to America?

14. How is Maxon flawed as a husband? How is he a good spouse?

15. Could there be someone better for Maxon than Sunny?

16. In her worry that marrying Maxon would ruin Sunny, should Emma have wonder if marrying Sunny would be the best thing for him?

17. Is it Maxon's fault that Bubber is the way he is?

18. Did Sunny make the right decision in taking Bubber out of his special school and off his medications?

19. How does a woman's relationship with her mother change when she becomes a mother herself?

20. Sunny felt she had to let her mother's ship fall past the horizon before her own could set sail. Can a woman truly become "the mother" while her own mother is alive?

21. Although Sunny's mother Emma was the epitome of acceptance, and encouraged her to go without a wig while she was growing up, why do you think Sunny started wearing them?

22. Why did Emma turn her husband in to the communists when they lived in Burma, and was this revelation necessary for the plot and coherence of the book?

23. In pages 291-293 of the book, during Sunny's labor with Bubber, she at first thinks she overhears her mother and Maxon having a conversation about Maxon going to the moon, but later Sunny thinks she must have made up the conversation. Do you think this conversation did occur? Why or why not? If you think it did occur what do you think motivated Sunny's mother to make the suggestion to Maxon that he complete his mission to the moon?

24. How is Sunny's decision to abandon her wig after her car accident related to her decision to take Bubber off of his medication?

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