New Fiction: All That is Solid Melts into Air – Darragh McKeon

What a rich, luscious, beautiful debut! Since, like so many readers these days I am a fan of dystopic situations, I was drawn to this historical novel about the Chernobyl disaster. But this deeply felt novel eschews wallowing in the gruesome details of the meltdown (though believe me there are some appalling moments) in favor of following how the lives of several individuals are affected. The ending offers equal measures of tragedy and triumph–all of it bittersweet. This novel is so richly textured–and McKeon shows such compassion for his characters—that I echo Colum McCann, who wrote, “All That Is Solid Melts into Air marks the beginning of a truly significant career. I cannot say it loud enough. McKeon is here to stay.”

[The Chernobyl disaster] serves as the dramatic backdrop for the unfolding of action and character. First we meet Grigory Ivanovich Brovkin, a Moscow physician whose marriage to Maria has recently failed. Maria has a nephew, Yevgeni, her sister’s son, who, at age 9, shows great promise as a piano prodigy, though his poverty militates against his success….After the Chernobyl debacle, Grigory’s medical skills are called on, for he must treat those who have been exposed to massive amounts of radiation. He feels dispirited by this as well as by official attempts to cover up the extent of the ecological and human disaster. McKeon takes the title for his novel from The Communist Manifesto, and everything solid does indeed seem to shift and evanesce as the events at Chernobyl reshape character and landscape….A leisurely-paced novel intended for those who like serious and thoughtful fiction.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“In 1986 Moscow, as first-time novelist McKeon presents it, few expect the Soviet government to change: strikes fail, newspapers are corrupt, and many men and woman can only find work in factories. Even Grigory, a successful surgeon, mourns his relentless routine: ‘The life that had silently formed around him seemed such a solid thing now.’ …But while hope for personal betterment is relentlessly checked, the horrific nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl proves that massive-scale change is possible. McKeon offers four clear fictional perspectives on Soviet history, and not once do the private affairs of his characters…bump up awkwardly against the historical account. Instead, McKeon’s fiction serves up, without cliché, what so many futuristic dystopian novels aspire to: a reminder that human beings can bring about their own demise.”<
— Publishers Weekly

“McKeon’s graceful writing gives depth to his characters as they navigate indelibly changed landscapes and search for connection within chaos.”
— Booklist

All That Is Solid Melts into Air (9780062246875) by Darragh McKeon. $14.99 trade paper original. 4/29/14 on sale.

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