Natural Wonders mixes mythology, popular fiction, and a misfired romance with the story of our planet revolving around the sun. From intimately human to geologic to cosmic, the novel explores change, love, and loss. Steeped in the history of science, it’s a woman’s retelling of what the narrator calls “the story of men and their adventures.” It crosses freely between fiction and nonfiction, offering an oddball and artistic take on geology, climate change, linguistics, and anthropology.
Recently widowed Jenny is asked to assemble a memorial edition of her late husband Jonathan’s lecture series on the earth and its prehistory. Claiming to know nothing of his work, not to mention Jonathan himself, she uses his partial and disorganized notes to create her own version of our planet’s past. Mixed in with her stories of science and scientists—a Serbian mathematician’s theory of the ice ages, a Swiss doctor camped on a glacier, the mysterious materia pinguis, which supposedly drifted down from stars to form fossils—Jenny interweaves scenes from their marriage as well as extraneous material found on Jonathan’s shelves. An explanation of continental drift becomes enmeshed with a schoolboy’s erotic encounter with an older woman. Icebergs in an Andean lake launch a story of a woman’s jealous affair with a third-rate actor. H. G. Wells’s Island of Dr. Moreau is dramatically retold, overturned, really. And a thriller featuring Jack the Ripper fills in gaps in a lecture on the role of volcanoes in climate change.
PRAISE FOR NATURAL WONDERS
“Angela Woodward’s Natural Wonders beautifully juxtaposes a recounting of a short but intense marriage against a retelling of both the marvelous expanse of geological time and the fraught history of scientific discovery. Very few writers have the required level of ambition to attempt to interweave the personal, the scientific, and the mythic on this grand of a scale, surely a task that requires a writer of great intelligence and heart. Thankfully, Woodward is just such a writer, and the result is a gorgeous novel you won’t soon forget.”
—Matt Bell, author of Scrapper
“Natural Wonders is an amazing work about sentience and biologic magic, its structure built and layered with beautiful rigor. It is full of delicious sentences that will pull readers into its meditation on story making and the awe that seems to be just outside our sight. Woodward’s novel contextualizes our shred of a civilization so vividly readers will see the world with new eyes. I am sure you will love it!”
—Stacey Levine, author of The Girl with Brown Fur and Frances Johnson
“Empiricists are us. We know what we know through our sensing apparatus. A fact, we know, is a thing done, and once it is done it is done and leaves only artifact and residue, evidence of its happening. But we also know (we’re giddy with fear) that our senses are so easily fooled. And in that fooling lies great wonder! Angela Woodward in Natural Wonders knows what the grand satirists—Swift and Sterne and Defoe—knew about the great tectonic paradigm shift to this new way of knowing. Her deadpan take on the scientific deadpan is expansive and microscopic, hilarious and heartbreaking. The book is a studious study of silly seriousness, a calculating engine collecting forever the erotic and effervescent data of our empirical world. It is so surely never sure of itself. It can’t not believe its eyes. Behold! Observe! See! The natural wonder of Natural Wonders as it does a bang up tangled tango with the tabula rasa.”
—Michael Martone, author of Michael Martone and Winesburg, Indiana
“Jenny, new widow and sometime protagonist of this extraordinary novel, collects her late husband’s lectures on prehistory for publication. She admits that ‘Jonathan and I hadn’t had much history, just a quick, impulsive marriage, and a journey into geologic time would not make up for it.’ Still, she’s determined to try, through the course of this planetary (and inter) exploration of the course of a marriage and a life, reflected through the earth’s own complex, violent, and beautiful history. Woodward has a way with the intentional meander, the stories that blossom into stories, that morph and shift and come together like the earth’s crust itself. This is a wonderful book.”
—Amber Sparks, author of The Unfinished World and Other Stories