Sea of Tranquility

Knopf. Apr. 2022. 272p. ISBN 9780593321447. $24. F
The latest in Mandel’s evolving uber novel opus once again builds an utterly singular world while remaining tethered to her previous works (characters from The Glass Hotel are instrumental here). The author’s most distinctly genre-inflected work yet, it boasts a laundry list of sf elements; time travel, lunar colonies, and simulation theory are corded to the more grounded influences of music, the natural world, family, and, yes, pandemics (though smartly more abstracted here). Initially taking on an unsettled shape of a mystery replete with myriad narrative ellipses, the narrative eventually slows its pace to fill in its early narrative shading, settling into the perspective of Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a sort-of layabout who finds himself investigating an “anomaly” that manifests across several centuries and lives. What results is a decidedly lighter and looser work for Mandel, recalling some of the paradox-themed playfulness of Sean Ferrell’s Man in the Empty Suit or Charles Yu’s How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, without leaning full-bore into any quantum specificity. But while its littered enigmas and savvy narrative structure make for effortless reading, both the worldbuilding and Roberts are given short shrift.
VERDICT A distinctly slight work from Mandel, one that is very much enjoyable on its own terms and nails its tonal progression but has too soft a center to hold up to much scrutiny.
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