Cold Fusion 2000, by Karl Drinkwater, is a book that must be read to the end. It is a story of love, loss and moving on. As with a Rubik’s cube, it is not clear how the puzzle satisfies until the final few twists re-establish order.
The protagonist, Alex Kavanagh, is a frustrated science teacher at a further education college in Manchester. At thirty years of age he is living in his family home with his mother and sister, having given up on completing his PhD when he split with his girlfriend six years ago. He is a socially awkward man child with a tendency to educate and correct those around him.
Alex is first presented to the reader as a physics geek with OCD tendencies. I expected him to be developed into someone like Sheldon Cooper from the American TV show, The Big Bang Theory. It soon became clear that Alex has plenty of emotions but is struggling to deal with them. He exercises, he jerks off – more than I was comfortable with, but perhaps this is an honest depiction of a man’s habits – and he lashes out verbally at those around him.
The story is set in early summer; the hot, sticky weather adding to the oppression which colours Alex’s days. When he splits up with his current girlfriend, a fellow teacher at the college where he works, he starts to feel desperate about the lack of direction in his life. Then Lucy reappears. She is only in Manchester for a few days but they agree to spend time together. Alex wonders if she has changed.
To talk more of how the plot develops would be to give spoilers. It really is a book where everything happens for a reason.
On the first read through there were aspects that grated. I found the dialogue stilted at times, perhaps to reflect Alex’s awkwardness around people. He stated that he enjoyed the comings and goings at his home, something that made me question the extent of his OCD. As well as his nerdish interest in physics he enjoyed art and literature, poetry in particular. He cried, a rarity for men in fiction. The personality being presented seemed contradictory. It was only by the end that I better understood why Alex was written in this way.
Although this is a book about loss and relationships, much of it is humorous. Alex’s awkwardness is gently mocked; his attempts to keep free the seat beside him on the bus entertaining. The image of him escaping to the children’s playground was both amusing and poignant.
I empathised more with the science references than the art. In one scene Alex and Lucy watch the film, ‘American Beauty’, an all time favourite of mine. Their take on it irked. Art appreciation is subjective.
The faster moving final chapters with their clipped thoughts and interactions worked well. Although I did not warm to Alex I wanted him to manage to move on. When it became clear what had been happening I went back and reread sections, the scientific chapter openings making sense.
This is a clever book that warns against allowing your heart to be so crushed it becomes a black hole, and how love does not always follow the rules. I have reservations about the structure and flow of the story, but I am glad that I persevered.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the author.