When Isa Arsén’s publicist first pitched me on Arsén’s debut novel, Shoot the Moon, I had a completely false idea of what to expect. The novel is set during the years leading up to the Apollo moon missions, and I imagined something akin to this past summer’s Oppenheimer, but with a female protagonist. In a literary world dominated by Tudor England, Borgia Italy, the Victorian Era, and World War II, the setting of Shoot the Moon stood out. So I gladly agreed to a New Books Network interview with the author.
Even so, the novel surprised me. It’s true: Annie Fisk does grow up near Los Alamos, and her father does work on Oppenheimer’s project. (I should mention that this novel was written and in press before the movie came out, so any similarities are, as they say, purely coincidental.) Annie is a loner, with a gift for math and science, and despite the disadvantages of being a gifted female physicist in an age when women were judged on their secretarial skills and their looks, she talks her way into a job at NASA.
But then the story goes in a quite different direction. I won’t spoil the fun of it for you by giving so much as a hint. Suffice it to say that this is a novel that will open your eyes to possibilities you might never have imagined. Listen to my conversation with the author to find out more.
As usual, the rest of this post comes from New Books in Historical Fiction.
Annie Fisk—an only child in Los Alamos, New Mexico—spends a lot of time investigating the treasure trove of objects at the back of her garden. Her father, with whom she is close, works long hours on the nuclear bomb project, her mother seems distant and preoccupied, and Annie has trouble making friends. But she is a gifted student, and she leaves home to major in physics and astronomy at a Texas college. At around the same time, she becomes romantically involved with Evelyn, an artist.
Yet Annie’s sights are set on the stars—more specifically, NASA, where the Apollo Project is underway. She graduates in 1962 and, against Evelyn’s objections, heads for Houston, where she lands a job as a secretary—it’s the 1960s, after all, and that’s what women are expected to do. There she meets Norman Gale, a relationship that opens up her future both professionally and personally.
But it’s Annie’s past, more than her present, that holds her back. And in this beautifully written debut novel, Isa Arsén ties all the disparate threads together in a unique and surprising way.
Image: Earthrise, as photographed by astronaut William Anders during the Apollo 8 mission; public domain from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).