Novel Ideas: Rockets Versus Gravity by Richard Scarsbrook

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When we run into someone we know at the grocery store, we call it a coincidence. When we find out that our former partner was recently hired at our workplace, we brush it off as chance. When something out of the ordinary happens that links our lives to someone else’s, we see it as simply accidental. In Richard Scarsbrook’s Rockets Versus Gravity, the reader is able to step back and discover that seemingly random events happen more often than we realize, and perhaps are not mere coincidence, but rather the work of a larger force at play – fate.

The novel is set in Scarsbrook’s invented Canadian town – Faireville – and the real-life city of Toronto, and follows seven main storylines: Stan the lumberjack who continually loses his wedding ring; a teenaged girl whose tryst with a handsome stranger changes her life forever; a neglected husband who used to be a rock star; a grinder for the local teen hockey team who faces off against the town’s hockey prodigy; a young boy in a wheelchair who is determined to carry out justice; a wealthy but unhappy family that lives close to a homeless woman; and an old veteran whose nurse reminds him of his former lover.

Scarsbrook expertly weaves these seemingly unrelated characters into one larger story – a technique reminiscent of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From The Goon Squad. But it is as if Scarsbrook challenges the reader to connect the dots – the reader must piece together the puzzle that will illustrate how all the stories are linked. And, as the story continues, the characters too begin to uncover the connections between their stories and others’ around them.

Perhaps most impressive of Scarsbrook’s style is his ability to drop little but significant clues – like metaphors and symbols – throughout his stories. Take, for instance, Stan the lumberjack. Stan’s inability to keep track of his wedding ring – he has lost four and replaced it every time – may at first seem like Stan simply has a habit of losing things. However, the reader soon discovers that in each of the storylines, other characters begin to find Stan’s rings. The lost rings become a crucial motif in the novel that serves as one of the strings that tie all these characters’ lives together.

Scarsbrook creates a vast array of unique characters – from a richer-than-life businessman to a homeless man with a talent for poetry, or from an aroused rural girl to an urban teen who is frustrated with her family’s selfishness. Many of these characters are underdogs or outcasts who have been mistreated by society, and desperately desire to escape its gravitational pull. Scarsbrook portrays these characters so vividly that the reader cannot help but empathize with them. He brings the cities of Faireville and Toronto – and all his characters within them – to life, and makes the reader desperately hope for the best for the beloved characters.

Rockets Versus Gravity is Scarsbrook’s eighth book and will be released in stores on September 24, 2016. It is his newest novel, and, one might say, his best yet. Just like his other books, he infuses witty humour within each chapter. But what makes this evocative novel so unique is how it demonstrates that our lives are more connected than we ever imagined.