In the wake of an affair, the lives of an astronaut and a radical are forever altered by the political fault lines of the 1960s, setting off a series of events ricocheting from anti-Vietnam activism to the Apollo program to the AIDS crisis, in this sprawling multigenerational novel
Ecuador, 1969: An American expatriate, Fay Fern, sits in the corner of a restaurant, she and her young son Wright turned away from the television where Vincent Kahn becomes the first man to walk on the moon.
Years earlier, Fay and Vincent meet at a pilots’ bar in the Mojave Desert. Both seemed poised for reinvention—the married test pilot, Vincent, as an astronaut; the spurned child of privilege, Fay, as an activist. Their casual affair ends quickly, but its consequences linger.
Though their lives split, their senses of purpose deepen in tandem, each becoming heroes to different sides of the political spectrum of the 1960s and 70s: Vincent an icon with no plan beyond the mission for which he has single-mindedly trained, Fay a leader of a violent leftist group whose anti-Vietnam actions make her one of the FBI’s most wanted. With her last public appearance, a demonstration that frames the Apollo program as a vehicle for distracting the American public from its country’s atrocities, Fay leaves Wright to contend with her legacy, his own growing apathy, and the misdeeds of both his mother and his country.
An immense, vivid reimagining of the Cold War era, America Was Hard to Find traces the fallout of the cultural revolution that divided the country and explores the meaning of individual lives in times of upheaval. It also confirms Kathleen Alcott’s reputation as a fearless and vital voice in fiction.
This richly ruminative novel refracts 30 years of American culture and history through the lives of characters who serve as surrogates for their historical counterparts. In 1957, Fay Fern is working as a bartender in her sister's dive bar in the Mojave Desert when she begins an affair with Vincent Kahn, one of the astronauts in training in America's nascent space program. In 12 years, Vincent will become the first man to walk on the moon, and Fay, who leaves him in 1960 while pregnant with a son she never told him about, will have drifted to the radical side of the counterculture as a member of Shelter, an extremist group loosely modeled on the Weather Underground. In the 1980s, Fay and Vincent's son, Wright, who is gay, flees the climate of AIDS activism his partner has embraced to seek out the father he never met. Alcott (Infinite Home) humanizes her characters by focusing intensively on their thoughts and feelings as they grapple with the grand significance of their times and personal experiences, especially Vincent, who thinks of himself as one of the "men with the defining moment of their life now behind them, totally and forever irrelevant." Alcott's novel is a sharp and moving reminder of the human dimension of even the most outsize historical events.