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Sunday, October 7th 2012

2:42 PM

Who IS Jack Mason, anyway?

The first time we see him, far from being well over 2000 years old, Jack's a nine-year-old boy, uprooted twice before finding himself in Bisque (natives pronounce it BIS-kew), his mother's home town in central Georgia. Born in New York City, he's snatched from third grade and whisked with his mother and father, a Columbia University nuclear physicist, unceremoniously to the high desert of Los Alamos, New Mexico. They're one family in several hundred who'll make up The Manhattan Project, the United States' effort to build the atomic bomb.

Jack's mother, Serena, is a headstrong young woman who chose Columbia for the express purpose of escaping the confines of Bisque, which she found stultifying in the extreme. That was before her mother's death, when Serena was a high school junior, in an automobile crash that was fatal to both her and her husband's business partner, with whom she was carrying on an extended affair. After that, Bisque was pure hell, a trough of suppressed ridicule and smutty innuendo that she resolved to escape and never return. Early in her sophomore year she found herself pregnant with Jack and, since the father was already married, chose his friend, a young physics professor, whom she hurried into bed, hoping the numbers wouldn't be too much of a giveaway. By the time this family arrives in Los Alamos, Serena's in no way ready to meet this demanding environment halfway.

Before three months go by, she and Jack board a rickety bus for an escape run to Bisque, she bathed in the irony of the situation, Jack submerged in confusion and despair at losing the man he's known as his father. This is where we find them in 1946, lodged in the town's "better" hotel, Serena having persuaded the owner, her father, to let her manage it. Jack, with typical childish resilience, has made fast friends with Ricky Terrell, the permanence of which neither boy can imagine on the hot September afternoon that the catalyst of their lives rolls into Bisque in a boiling-over Buick limousine…
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