Although it fails in many other ways, THE INFINITE TIDES tells an original and mostly well-imagined story. Keith Corcoran is an astronaut who gets terrible news from home while he’s on a mission at the international space station. The onset of intense migraines force him to end the mission early, and when he comes home, his life has been irrevocably changed in almost every quarter. As Keith deals with debilitating depression, anger, and what he comes to recognize as loneliness, he must learn to come to terms with his grief and reach out for friendship in an unlikely place. Though the middle chunk of the book is fairly slow, the beginning and ending are both nicely paced and quietly suspenseful.
Sadly, the characters in THE INFINITE TIDES are not compelling in the slightest. Keith is a silent, stoic, constantly-confused-by-social-interaction jerk. His dialogue consists mainly of the words “Okay” and “Shit.” (Not an exaggeration. Someone should count the instances of those two words in dialogue, but you won’t see me volunteering.) He ignores most other humans, or seems to see them as if they are from an inferior subspecies. The only time Keith is bearable as a character is when he dwells on his daughter, revealing true love and regret and sorrow.
With the exception of Keith’s daughter, Quinn, the book is populated by sexist caricatures of women. Keith’s wife, Barb, is a predictable harpy who is unreasonable and is just after Keith’s paycheck. The sexy next-door neighbor, Jennifer, is a predictable man-hungry, independent vixen. Audrey, the minor character who works at Starbucks, is, predictably, a bland nobody. Luda, the wife of Keith’s Ukrainian immigrant friend Peter, is on the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of stereotypes – she is the designated Madonna figure, the ever loving, ever gentle, ever helpful, ever subservient, motherly character. When Keith is most lost, she invites him into the family. Predictably.
Quinn stands out. Strong-willed and very likely a genius on a level beyond her father, she is drawn to cheerleading, magazines, and “hanging out” instead of to working on long math problems all day (wonder why!). Despite what could have been an interesting, conflicted character, the narration paints all stereotypical female pursuits (the cheerleading et al) as negative and due to Barb’s interfering and not Quinn’s own choices.
The Ukrainian immigrant cast of characters is also poorly handled. Kiefer relies on the white-savior trope wherein Keith helps Peter in a small but significant way and Peter and Luda literally tell Keith he is an inspiration and a good person to look up to. Bear in mind this is after an entire book of them hero-worshipping him for being an astronaut. At this point, helping Peter is also the first decent human thing Keith has done – certainly not something he should be praised within an inch of his life for.
The setting does its job well: it is unforgettable and essential to the plot. Keith lives in an impossibly empty house for most of the novel. Other settings include outer space and a starlit field with a giant sofa in it, so I approve.
The narrative style hooked me at first, but by the end it felt overwrought and flowery. The math/space description started out very strong (that I got lost in the beauty of the first twenty pages is what made me read all the way to the end, despite major misgivings about every single character), but lost its power after sixty pages. The book was written half in stream-of-consciousness style and half in short, stilted fragment sentences.
Final note that occasionally the third person omniscient voice slipped into an obtrusive (and slightly preachy) first person that I found distracting.”