Lydia Netzer’s Shine Shine Shine: Seeking Normal in an Out-of-this-World Life
Sunny's life is about to change. In a matter of days, she sends off her astronaut husband, Maxon; she gets into a car accident that exposes her baldness; she takes her son, Bubber, off his medicine, which is meant to curb his autism; her mother lies in a coma about to die; and she is pregnant and about to deliver. Yet the whole time, and for much of her life, Sunny just wants to be normal. But as Lydia Netzer's debut novel, Shine Shine Shine, makes most clear: Normalcy, of all things in the universe, is virtually nonexistent.
The world Netzer has created is one of seemingly contradictory peculiarities. Like a charming, quirky indie movie, these peculiarities aren't ever explained. Rather they're washed over us, and it's expected that we simply accept them. For example: Maxon -- whose mission is to help create a robot colony on the moon -- is very mechanical. Like a child, he must be instructed on how to act, how to respond in certain social situations. He works out equations to help understand human emotions. Yet, he is capable of feeling an intense love and attachment for Sunny, and Sunny for him. Speaking of Sunny, her baldness is the epitome of peculiarities in the novel. It is a mystery to even her -- just a medical anomaly. But Sunny hadn't always worn a wig to hide it. At one time, she was happily and proudly bald. But when she grows up, gets married, and starts a family, this changes. Suddenly, she is never without one of her blonde wigs, so much so that almost no one, not even her best friends, know about her baldness. And it is when this security blanket, her wig, is thrown off in a car accident for all to see, and her universe is turned upside down, that the bulk of the story begins and a series of life-changing events -- the biggest being an accident that threatens to strand Maxon in space -- tests her patience, her will, and her humanity.
Shine Shine Shine is simultaneously compressed and full, as it chronicles the few days after Maxon's launch, as well as Sunny and Maxon's respective pasts apart -- Sunny's childhood in Burma and the disappearance of her father; Maxon's wild-child loneliness and abusive father -- and together, so that by the time the rocket is damaged, we're fully invested, and through these out-of-this-world experiences we're able to gain insight not into what it means to be normal or abnormal, but instead what it means to be human.