How to Speak to God: A Fictional Exploration of Nuclear Testing in the American West
My novel-in-progress, "How to Speak to God," explores the mythological, religious, and political narratives surrounding nuclear testing in the American West. It weaves the story of Annie Klein, a pregnant woman from a family deeply afflicted by nuclear testing, with that of Erik Daniels, a modern-day prophet. Annie bears the history of nuclear testing in her genes. She struggles with her fears for and ambivalence toward her unborn child, the loss of her Mormon faith, and the impending death of her beloved grandfather, a former physicist at the Nevada Test Site. Erik grapples with the burden of his faith, even as he urges his followers to see the awe-inspiring power of the atomic bomb as a manifestation of God on earth.
The formal structure of the novel expresses the fragmented imagination and complicated ethics of nuclear testing and the narrative of nuclear testing. Interspersed between the primary narratives are sections using the language of Cold War propaganda, eyewitness accounts of nuclear test, and declassified government documents. In some sections, I combine text from loosely transcribed Department of Civil Defense films with the protagonist's account of her family's nuclear experiences. In other sections, I write collective third person accounts set in small Nevada and Utah towns in the 1950s, where Cold War paranoia takes hold and strange creatures lurk in the desert. In form and content, my novel reflects the tension between public and private consciousness and investigates the ways we challenge and maintain perceived boundaries of narrative authority and convention.
Marston, Rachel, "How to Speak to God: A Fictional Exploration of Nuclear Testing in the American West" (2018). Forum Lectures. 375.