Uncle Anton’s Atomic Bomb, by Ian Woollen
Uncle Anton’s Atomic Bomb (406 pages), a work of literary fiction by Ian Woollen, takes place in the latter half of the 20th century, when Cold War paranoia led just about every American family of means to build a bomb shelter in the backyard.
Shorted-listed for the Balcones Prize.
Mary weds Ward Jr., heir to the well-to-do Wangerts of Indianapolis, and together they raise three sons. As they negotiate a rocky path through the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, they take turns spinning a nighttime yarn inspired by the idea: what if Anton Chekhov wrote a story about the atomic bomb?
“This is the Great American Cold War novel. This is a novel of spies and journalists. This is a novel of failures and attempted successes; this is a novel of love and despair and, moreover, this is a novel about family…. Whether it’s the early adventures on Great Tusk Island, the daily work day of He Who Remains Classified, the school years spent at Rokeby School, or the decline of Indianapolis, Woollen keeps the reader occupied but in a way that doesn’t make it seem like he’s fooling or delaying you. They are stories within stories constructed like a finely crafted Matryoshka doll set…. Woollen is able to weave history and fiction in a way that transcends genre. This isn’t a historical fiction novel, it’s not a romance novel, and it’s not even a spy thriller. It’s all of the above and at the same time, none of them. It’s a saga, a personal one stuck in the middle of something bigger…. This is craftsmanship at its finest. This passive thriller, this lengthy epic, may not be for everyone. And that’s fine. But for those readers interested in diving head first into the deepest rabbit holes of our own history, this is one you just can’t miss.” Read more….
—Nick Sweeney for the Atticus Review
“As I expected, this is a delightful novel, with an eccentric but heartwarming cast of characters you cannot help but like …. The characters are warm and compelling, funny and easy to relate to as they struggle with finding their places in family and in the world at large, and Woollen tells their stories with wisdom, compassion and insight …. Recommended for readers who love Americana, humor, quirky ensembles, and an engaging family saga.” Read more ….
“A thoroughly readable narrative …. What makes Uncle Anton’s Atomic Bomb work is the way it balances the family’s normalcy and the heightened circumstances. That includes the three sons’ diverging paths as each finds a partner, sees his relationship with their parents change, and becomes a generational archetype while remaining a memorable character. This is a unique work, and one that remains interesting all the way through the reveal of its Chekhovian secrets.” Read more ….
—Jeff Fleischer, ForeWord Magazine
Click here to read an interview with Ian Woollen
Spring, 1951. The Cold War. Two fresh college graduates renew a childhood acquaintance on a long train ride home to Indianapolis. Embers ignite. Mary Grace Stark is about to embark on her first State Department posting in Moscow. Ward Wangert III reluctantly returns to his family business, after turning down a job offer from He Who Remains Classified, a powerful friend at the C.I.A. A few months later, while supervising a bomb shelter project, Ward receives an emergency summons from Moscow. He travels behind the Iron Curtain to rescue Mary from a diplomatic debacle. The couple decides to wed, even though Mary won’t say who fathered her unborn child.
Ward and Mary produce two more sons and struggle to maintain their standing in the deteriorating rust-belt city of Indianapolis. Their family saga, which spans the latter half of the American Century, is a tragicomic mix of upper-crust romance, sibling warfare, boarding school drama, and C.I.A. skullduggery.
Says Woollen, “In 1989 I was driving home from work, turned on the radio and heard the news of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Hit by an inexplicably large wave of emotion, I pulled over. Suddenly it was visible—the insidious Cold War TENSION that pervaded American life for so long that it blurred into normalcy. I began to think about a novel that would capture the charged interweave of big-stage influences with a local, day-to-day family drama.”
Ian Woollen was born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana. Shipped off to boarding school at age fourteen, he eventually graduated from Yale University and Christian Theological Seminary. A checkered job history includes house painter, furniture stripper, script reader, psychotherapist. His first novel, Stakeout on Millennium Drive, won the 2006 Best Book of Indiana Fiction Award. His short fiction has surfaced in a variety of journals, including The Massachusetts Review, Juked, decomP, The Smokelong Quarterly, and The Mid-American Review, from which he received a Sherwood Anderson Prize. Click here to find Ian online.
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