In “A Mistake,” New Zealand author Carl Shuker conveys in gorgeous, heartbreaking detail the shock of catastrophe and the ways we try to make sense of disaster after the fact.
The novel’s protagonist, Elizabeth Taylor, is, at 42, the youngest and only female consultant general surgeon at Wellington Hospital. She is also consumed by the long-ago story of the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster, the “most beautiful story of error” she’s ever read. She lingers over descriptions of the catastrophe, “the tower of light and smoke, the cold and the corkscrew of vapour collapsing in on itself and spreading like the skirts of a swooning actor in a period drama as she sinks to the sands . . . one long white streamer falling to the ocean. The smoke curling, reshaping, morphing. Then it all pauses, at an end, descending, compressing, and fading away.”