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The Big Bang Symphony

A Novel of Antarctica

Lucy Jane Bledsoe

Publication Year: 2010

Antarctica is a vortex that draws you back, season after season. The place is so raw and pure, all seal hide and crystalline iceberg. The fishbowl communities at McMurdo Station, South Pole Station, and in the remote field camps intensify relationships, jack all emotion up to a 10. The trick is to get what you need and then get out fast.
    At least that’s how thirty-year-old Rosie Moore views it as she flies in for her third season on the Ice. She plans to avoid all entanglements, romantic and otherwise, and do her work as a galley cook. But when her flight crash-lands, so do all her plans.
    Mikala Wilbo, a brilliant young composer whose heart—and music—have been frozen since the death of her partner, is also on that flight. She has come to the Ice as an artist-in-residence, to write music, but also to secretly check out the astrophysicist father she has never met.
    Arriving a few weeks later, Alice Neilson, a graduate student in geology who thinks in charts and equations, is thrilled to leave her dependent mother and begin her career at last. But from the start she is aware that her post-doc advisor, with whom she will work in Antarctica, expects much more from their relationship.
    As the three women become increasingly involved in each other’s lives, they find themselves deeply transformed by their time on the Ice. Each falls in love. Each faces challenges she never thought she would meet. And ultimately, each finds redemption in a depth and quality of friendship that only the harsh beauty of Antarctica can engender.
Finalist, Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction
Finalist, Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction, awarded by the Publishing Triangle
Finalist, Fiction Award, Northern California Independent Booksellers Association
Finalist, ForeWord Magazine's Book of the Year Award in the Gay/Lesbian fiction category

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 3-7

The plane was only half full. Mostly scientists. Few workers deployed to the continent this late in the season. Rosie was glad to be doing a short stint this year. By the time she left in February, three months from now, she would have her down payment. If she managed to not get fired. ...

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pp. 8-10

When the plane slammed into the ice, it sounded to Mikala as if all the musicians in the world had thrown their instruments—horns, pianos, cellos, timpani—off a tall building at once. Music’s apocalypse. A simultaneous thud and crunch and crash of uncharted dimension and amplification. ...

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pp. 11-14

Rosie had no idea if they were on the ice runway near McMurdo Station or if they’d crash-landed miles away. The loadmaster kept shouting for everyone to stay in a group, but that was nearly impossible in these conditions. A blinding snow angled down and she saw only the jacket in front of her. ...

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pp. 15-16

Mikala burrowed down as deeply into the mummy sack as she could get. She tightened the drawstring that pulled the bag closed over her head. At first she thought she’d imagined the tune. But no, the woman lying next to her was humming Te Deum. ...

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pp. 17-20

When a militarily precise voice shouted at the door of their tent, “Is everyone all right in there?” Rosie woke up.
Dean Rasmussen answered, without checking with his tentmates, that they were fine. ...

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pp. 21-22

In a burst of courage, Mikala climbed out of the tent. Mainly she wanted to see where Rosie had gone. What she saw, though, was the wreckage of the plane, toppled on the ice like a shiny alien creature. It looked strangely intact. It was strangely intact, except for its broken wing and...

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pp. 23-24

Vernon asked Rosie if she would wait with the body, and she said she would.
“Go on back with Vernon,” she told Mikala. The big handsome girl stood several yards away with her fleece hat in her hands, her head bare to the cold Antarctic sun. She had short black hair and lovely matching eyebrows that arched above her sunglasses. ...

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pp. 25-37

Rosie opened the door to the dorm room she’d been assigned and dropped her duffels. The room was empty. Was that possible? Had she really scored a room to herself this year?
Perfect. She’d embrace solitude again.

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pp. 38-40

Close the door.”
Rosie gently pushed the door until it clicked into place. Then she faced Karen, feeling as she always did in front of this woman, as if she were reporting to the principal. She was only ten or so years older than Rosie, but she commanded her forty years with a cool...

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pp. 41-45

Alice thought that maybe she was, at this moment, the happiest she’d ever been in her life. It was ten o’clock at night and a hard New England rain pelted the roof and windows of the city bus. She should have been home hours ago. She should have spent her last evening with her...

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pp. 46-49

Just two days after the crash landing near McMurdo Station, the National Science Foundation expected Mikala Wilbo to board another LC-130 and fly to the South Pole. She asked if she might recover for a day or two at the much bigger station on the edge of the continent before she...

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pp. 50-56

Sorry,” Larry said when Rosie answered the knock on her dorm room door. “I tried calling, but you didn’t pick up.” He ran a hand over the top of his freshly shaved head and opened that beautiful, asymmetrical smile of his, now apologetic. “So I thought I’d just stop by.” ...

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pp. 57-75

The room frightened Alice. It was full of another woman’s stuff: a map of the United States was tacked on the wall over the one small desk, a pair of jeans were crumpled on the floor at the foot of the first bed, which was strewn with a sleeping bag, no linens at all, and an open tube of toothpaste oozed next to the sink. ...

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pp. 76-86

Mikala had been at South Pole Station for five days—and written no music at all—before she laid eyes on her father. He spent all his time in his lab out at the Dark Sector, getting ready to launch a new telescope. The word “dark” did not refer to light rays, which were impossible to...

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pp. 87-89

Alice sat on the edge of her bed holding the lump of tissue that allegedly wrapped a vase from the Dalai Lama. She was considering walking it down the hall to the bathroom where she could deposit it in the trash bin. But what if Jennifer lived on this same floor in this same dorm? ...

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pp. 90-100

When Alice woke up the next morning, Rosie was gone. She checked the clock. Jamie the seal biologist would be showing up soon. She’d said yes to his invitation! The extreme cold must have addled her brain. Alice had read about it on a science poster in Crary Lab. ...

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pp. 101-104

Alice went directly to Crary Lab and let herself into Rasmussen’s office. She’d be with him soon. Though the mountains were bound to be more daunting than the road between McMurdo Station and Scott Base, she’d have work. Work was salvation. ...

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pp. 105-116

Every single morning, when Rosie’s alarm went off at 4:30, her first thought was of kissing Larry, sitting against the pile of rocks supporting Our Lady of the Snows. The sensitivity of his mouth, the briefest of moments when his tongue touched hers. The sad kindness in his eyes. ...

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pp. 117-137

Mikala stood at the exact geographic South Pole. A simple stake marked the spot. It had to be moved a few yards every year due to the shifting ice sheet. A sign, quoting the journals of the two men who had raced to be the first to stand in this place, announced the results of their competition. ...

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pp. 138-142

Rosie worked. Every day for three weeks without a break. She worked to avoid thinking about the way it felt to kiss Larry. She worked to forestall walking into the office of the Antarctic Sun, just down the hall from the galley. She worked to forget the look on his face, that night at...

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pp. 143-151

Rosie regretted answering Larry’s email the second she tapped the send button. There ought to be a delay of ten seconds— call it the remorse pause—so that a correspondent could retrieve a message. Email was way too fast, spontaneous, dangerous. It was high time to renew her vow of celibacy. ...

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pp. 152-160

Mikala sat at her keyboard and allowed herself a Bach riff. If she couldn’t write, at least she could play. The keyboard felt especially silky today, her hands loose and fluid, and she played Bach’s C minor Prelude with her whole body. ...

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pp. 161-168

On New Year’s Eve, Alice waited for Rosie. She’d be leaving for the Dry Valleys in two days. Finally. But she didn’t think she could spend another evening alone in this dim room. She had a plan. Surely Rosie would be going to the party out at Scott Base. She would invite herself along. ...

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pp. 169-173

Let her go,” Earl said.
“But I’m worried. She seems like she’s on the brink of something.”
“We’re all on the brink of something.”

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pp. 174-179

The van came to a stop, and someone slid open the door, but the driver shouted above the voices of the party-goers that she didn’t have room for another passenger. “Unless you’re in physical danger,” she said. “I need to ask you to either walk or wait for the next van.” ...

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pp. 180-184

Jed had been thirteen when Rosie left home. He’d already burned down a state park shed, been caught stealing money from a teacher’s desk, and could chug a pint of whiskey. Max, a year younger, was busy making a vocation out of being good. ...

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pp. 185-189

Alice knew there’d been a man with Rosie last night. She could smell him. Also, Rosie slept naked, her pajamas on the floor beside the bed. Then there was the white T-shirt she clutched under her chin as she slept. ...

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pp. 190-198

After Alice left to call her mother from Crary Lab, Rosie threw off the sleeping bag and sat on the edge of her bed, naked as the day she was born, while a feeling of tremendous well-being dawned on her. ...

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pp. 199-200

Rosie was a miracle.
No musical training. No inhibition. No affected phrasing. No coddling of precious vocal cords. Just out there in the frozen air, belting her heart out. Just raw voice. A natural diva. She tore up Hendrix’s “Angel.” ...

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pp. 201-203

After taking a hot shower and changing into warm clothes, Rosie set out to find Larry. It was puzzling that she hadn’t seen him at the concert. With his height, he couldn’t hide in a crowd.
Once outside her dorm, she stopped briefly, wondering where to look. ...

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pp. 204-207

The next morning, Rosie got up at five o’clock to go to work. She dressed in an exhausted blur. She almost didn’t see the well-sealed envelope that had been slid under her door some time in the night. It was from Larry. He wrote that he had confessed to Karen because he thought...

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pp. 208-218

Alice awoke feeling refreshed. She was going to Rasmussen at last. She thought of his lean cragginess, his leathery scent, his capable hands with a feeling of homecoming. Nothing truly disastrous had happened in McMurdo and now she could get on with the plan. ...

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pp. 219-224

Mikala had lots of experience cooking for groups at Redwood Grove, but the South Pole galley was cramped and futuristic compared to the big, funky kitchen in the longhouse. Here all the pots and implements hung from steel racks, which in turn hung from the ceiling on chains. ...

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pp. 225-229

Jeffrey ditched the galley, probably retreating to his berth in the Hypertat, the only place it was possible to hide, so Mikala made herself stay to help finish preparing lunch. Well before the meal officially began, folks started streaming in the galley to gawk at the disaster. ...

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pp. 230-234

Rosie felt wretched at the South Pole. The altitude. The crystal desert. Not one penguin or seal. Just an eternity of ice, two miles thick.
The only spot of relief on the entire station was the computer lab, to which she retreated after every interminable shift in the galley. ...

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pp. 235-240

Alice craved a hot shower, to warm her bones and to wash the cold grit off her skin. The physical pain of the labor was, at times, almost unbearable. And she could not get accustomed to the plain air toilet, which was shielded from view in camp by a slight rise of land, nothing so definite as to be called a ridge. ...

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pp. 241-245

Dear Alice,
I’m glad you’re getting a few days reprieve in McMurdo, even if you do have to sort samples all day. It means email for me! Thanks for writing. ...

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pp. 246-247

Rosie came up to the Sky Lab to show Mikala pictures of the land she’d bought online, sight unseen. She sat on the piano bench next to Mikala and asked a river of questions about raising bees and digging wells and growing vegetables. She didn’t wait for answers. She was so happy, she just talked and talked. ...

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pp. 248-255

On the first of February, Barney the station manager and Valerie the science manager threw a party. More than half the station’s scientists and workers had fallen prey to the virus in January, and while nearly all were recovered, thousands of valuable work hours had been lost. ...

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pp. 256-259

Rosie started walking away from the station at eight o’clock. She was supposed to get there first, by eight-thirty, and he’d arrive around nine. The stealth was hardly necessary. Everyone would be at the party. No one would notice their absence. ...

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pp. 260-267

The morning after the party, Mikala sat on the edge of her bed and took three ibuprofen to combat the effects of too much bad wine. Nothing, however, would expunge the memory of her father’s warm, sweaty hand in hers, the picture of him dancing ridiculously and drinking wine from the bottle. ...

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pp. 268-269

When Rosie woke up, she was alone. There was the briefest moment when she looked for him, wondered if he’d left already, before she remembered that he hadn’t come.
It was late, past ten. Either her watch alarm hadn’t gone off or she’d slept through it. ...

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pp. 270-273

Alice woke up early in the morning on February 2, having dreamt about walking on the Ferrar Glacier. She was walking alone. The surface of the glacier was littered with Dalai Lama vases. They weren’t wrapped in tissue or encased in plastic, like the real one. ...

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pp. 274-280

In the dorm, Alice had to push through a gaggle of women, clustered by the door, animatedly discussing Rosie’s fate. As if she were gone already.
“Excuse me,” Alice said, holding the key out in front of her like a dagger. ...

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pp. 281-283

Alice stopped outside Karen’s closed office door. The facts added up to nothing. Rosie hadn’t been seen since dinner last night. She hadn’t shown up for her flight this morning. In the meantime, a storm had hit Pole Station. ...

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pp. 284-287

It didn’t take long for Rosie to lose her senses.
She hadn’t seen a flag in a long time. They were planted to withstand storms, that was the whole point, but the wind today was pretty damn fierce. Maybe they had been uprooted like trees and blasted across the polar plateau. ...

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pp. 288-293

While the phone continued to ring, and Marcus held her baby picture, and Mikala tried to figure out what to do next, feet pounded up the stairs. Two women burst into Marcus’s lab and one said, “Hey. Have either of you seen Rosie Moore?” ...

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pp. 294-295

Rosie lay still and curled on her bed of snow. She looked alarmingly at peace. Right here, at rest on this continent. In this universe.
Earl stopped the snowmobile a good fifteen yards away, as if protecting her from the violence of its wail. ...

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pp. 296

Alice left the door of Rasmussen’s office open and lay on the floor. She waited. Earl was a madman. But she hoped he was the right madman for the job.
Two hours later, at four o’clock, she heard a door slam down the hall. A confusion of voices and excited footsteps. ...

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pp. 297-303

At the top of the hill above Scott Base, Alice looked down on the buildings, puzzling over their lichen green color. The color neither stood out for safety’s sake nor camouflaged the buildings for aesthetics. Perhaps the eerie green paint had been on sale or found in some government warehouse. ...

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pp. 304-306

When she reached McMurdo, Alice returned to Rasmussen’s office in Crary Lab and called her mother. Her mouth, the feel of Jamie’s tongue, still burned, the flames licking through her body.
“Mom, I wanted to ask you for advice.” ...

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pp. 307-308

Betty kept dinner warm and held the galley open an extra hour. People ate heartily, as if they too had almost lost their lives in the storm, and talked in rushed whispers, as if their full voices might break something fragile. ...

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pp. 309-312

Within minutes of the assault, Rosie and Larry were loaded onto the medevac plane on stretchers. Rosie’s health had stabilized and she complained about not being allowed to walk onboard, but Larry, who had broken ribs and head injuries, was unconscious and needed to be...

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pp. 313-316

Alice returned to the Pivot Peak camp to finish out the last days of the season. As she flew up the valleys, she looked down on the rock striations, the beautiful layers, the embedded complexity. Rocks are the ultimate timepieces, earth’s most accurate clock. ...

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pp. 317-321

It was nearly dusk as Rosie’s sky blue ’88 Toyota Short Bed bounced down the two-track dirt road leading to her land. She parked in front of the trailer. It wasn’t much: tiny with rounded ends, a little dilapidated, white with pale green trim, already getting swallowed by the summer’s tall grasses. ...

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pp. 322-325

Alice still felt stunned by how effective it had been to seize a day. Jamie had responded within a couple of hours to her declaration of love. It had been an ambivalent response, but a response nonetheless. Then, upon arriving back in the States, she applied for four teaching positions and...

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pp. 326-329

Mikala hung out backstage with Lisa and the rest of the musicians until fifteen minutes before the start of the concert. Then she came into the front of the house and took her seat between Pauline and Andy. But she couldn’t sit still. So she excused herself and got up again, thinking...

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pp. 330

Rosie couldn’t believe she’d almost made them late, but here they were. She was settling into the dark, enjoying their birdlike perch at the top of the hall, happy to have glimpsed Mikala’s new girlfriend, when she heard it. The White Salmon minister’s hymn. ...


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pp. 331-333

E-ISBN-13: 9780299235031
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299235000

Page Count: 333
Publication Year: 2010

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Subject Headings

  • Antarctica -- Fiction.
  • Man-woman relationships -- Antarctica -- Fiction.
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