Title: Love at Absolute Zero
Author: Christopher Meeks
Edition: Paperback (uncorrected proof)
Publisher: White Whisker Books (2011)
Challenges: Read Your Own Books Challenge; GoodReads 2011 Reading Challenge
How I Came by This Book: Love at Absolute Zero is a review request book. It was provided at no charge by the author in exchange for a review.
About the Author: Christopher Meeks began as a playwright and has had three plays produced. Who Lives? A Drama is published. His short stories have been published in Rosebud, The Clackamas Literary Review, The Santa Barbara Review, The Southern California Anthology, The Gander Review, and other journals and are available in two collections, The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea and Months and Seasons. He has two novels, The Brightest Moon of the Century, a story that Marc Schuster of Small Press Reviews describes as "a great and truly humane novel in the tradition of Charles Dickens and John Irving," and his new comic novel, Love At Absolute Zero. Visit his website at: www.christophermeeks.weebly.com
Synopsis: Love at Absolute Zero is the story of Gunnar Gunderson, a 32-year-old star physicist at the University of Wisconsin. The moment he’s given tenure at the university, he can think of only one thing: finding a wife. His research falters into what happens to matter near absolute zero (-459.67° F), but he has an instant new plan. To meet his soul mate within three days—that’s what he wants and all the time he can carve out—he will use the Scientific Method. His research team will help. Can Gunnar survive his quest? What happens if and when he goes to Denmark?
Review: A few years ago I watched a film starring John Cleese called Clockwise. It was about a man by whom you could set your clock—he was never late and no one around him was allowed to be either. Then, on the most important day of his life, things take a turn for the worse when one mishap after another makes him later and later for an awards ceremony. As I was watching this film, I kept getting that squirmy feeling of, “This could be me.” I’m late for pretty much everything—so much so that if I were ever to acquire a superpower, I’d want it to be the ability to control time. So, as I was watching Cleese’s character fail again and again to get to his ceremony on time, I found that I wanted to laugh at the funny bits but that I couldn’t. I was so nervous for him (and for myself) that at times I was too uncomfortable to laugh.
How does this have anything to do with a book about a physicist trying to find love? Gunnar Gunderson, our hero, is another one of those characters that was able to do that to me. Don’t get me wrong. I loved the book. Love at Absolute Zero is a funny, charming novel that mixes a pinch of science with a dash of romance that keeps you turning pages from beginning to end. It also, however, can make you nervous. Or, at least, it made me nervous. I found that the biggest strength of this novel was that the author, Christopher Meeks, was able to create a character that was I was able to relate to despite the fact that Gunnar’s occupation as a physicist is so utterly different from what I do. And because of this, the obstacles he runs into on the road to finding true love affect the reader even more.
Gunnar is a man with a plan: in three days he will find the love of his life using the one thing that he feels most comfortable with—the scientific method. Anyone who’s ever taken a science course will probably remember the scientific method. For those who don’t, it’s the process by which you ask some questions about a phenomenon, form a hypothesis, conduct an experiment, review your data to see whether or not the data backs up your hypothesis, and publish your findings. The whole method is designed so that your work can be verified by tests done by other scientists. If they do the same experiment and get the same results, then your hypothesis is proven even further. Poor, naïve Gunnar truly believes that this is a good way to meet his future wife and he dives in headfirst, dragging his two research assistants along with him.
In three days time, Gunnar trips and stumbles through eye surgery, braces, and speed dating in an attempt to find Mrs. Right. On the way he runs into the girl he used to have a crush on in school but never had the courage to ask on a date and a Danish beauty who seems as instantly smitten with Gunnar as he is with her. Gunnar soon finds that it may not be the scientific method pushing him towards love, but an even stronger force—fate.
This is the true battle in this book: determinism vs. controlled scientific experimentation. From page one, Meeks drives the reader forward with hints about what fate has in store for Gunnar. It leads the audience to engage in a bit of the scientific method themselves. They see the evidence in front of them in the first chapter and they come up with their own hypothesis, gathering data from that point on in an attempt to figure out what happens to make Gunnar so despondent at the beginning. As they engage in their experiment (i.e., reading the book), the reader is taken from Wisconsin to Denmark and back again, traveling with Gunnar from the height of love to the deepest despair all the way through to a satisfying conclusion. Along the way, the audience is forced to change their hypothesis as fate (and Meeks) keeps them guessing. It isn’t until the last page of the book, really, that the reader can say that Gunnar’s journey is over and that perhaps he may find love after all. Until then everything is pretty much up in the air.
As I mentioned earlier, Gunnar is the kind of character with whom readers can identify. As a nerdy guy who’s been unlucky in love, I found that I could empathize with Gunnar’s struggles. But all of the characters in this book are memorable in their own way—Ursula and Kara, Gunnar’s potential love interests; Svetlana, the sexy Russian college student; Gunnar’s research assistants, Carl and Harry; Henrik, Kara’s mischievous brother; and, most especially, Gunnar’s mother, the force-to-be-reckoned-with that ultimately helps determine Gunnar’s destiny. The novel is littered with bit-part characters, like the speed-dating girls, who leave just as much of an impression on the reader as the main actors in Gunnar’s life. Meeks demonstrates a remarkable ability to squeeze as much life as possible into even the most minor of players.
The dialogue in Love at Absolute Zero is good…for the most part. I find that when I read novels, I’m always most critical of what characters say and how they say it. Meeks is skilled at giving each character a distinct voice, but I found that some of the dialogue was either flat or that it didn’t seem realistic. In all honesty, this is the only thing about the book that I didn’t entirely like and it isn’t enough of an issue to make someone not enjoy the novel. One of the best things about the dialogue, however, is how Gunnar expresses his love of physics. As someone who is only marginally aware of how physics works (enough so that I can understand jokes on The Big Bang Theory or have a basic conversation on string theory), I found that, through Meeks, Gunnar is able to vocalize the importance of physics in our everyday lives and do it in such a way that it’s understandable. Meeks himself is no physicist, so his command of the material shows just how much research must have gone into the writing of this novel. By the end of the book I was able to say that I actually had a firm grasp of what a Bose-Einstein condensate is and why it’s important. Who says you can’t learn anything from novels?
I had never heard of Meeks before receiving this review request, but Love at Absolute Zero has made me very interested in reading his other works. This novel is a unique take on the love story and it was fun to read a book where it was the guy who was looking for love in all the wrong places. The lesson that I took away from this book is that the best laid plans of mice and physicist oft blow up in your face…but that doesn’t mean that life doesn’t have a few surprises of its own waiting around the bend for you.
I’m giving Love at Absolute Zero 4.5 out of 5 Gabriels. I thought the book was well-paced, funny, and chock-full of interesting characters, but I’m taking half a point off for occasionally stilted dialogue. I highly recommend this book.
Coming tomorrow: my interview with the author of Love at Absolute Zero, Christopher Meeks!
Next stops on the tour:
-October 11th and 12th: Dan's Journal
-October 12th: Words I Write Crazy
-October 13th and 14th: Ramblings of a Daydreamer
-October 14th: Drey's Library