Reviews

Percival’s Planet

“An extraordinary, sprawling tale…utterly mesmerising….breathtaking, triumphant…a towering achievement.” —Times of London

“…irresistible…Byers has the rare ability to break a reader’s heart practically from the moment each new character is introduced…a compassionate, sentimental tale of outcasts triumphing over impossible odds, pulled into ever-tightening orbits and intersections by fate, finding if not outright happiness, then at least a modicum of peace, however fleeting.” —Oregonian

“A subtle, satisfying adventure…like a desert version of Doctorow’s Ragtime….Just as the planets influence one another, tugging and stretching their orbits as they sweep around the sun, so all these characters cause perturbations in each other’s lives. And Byers writes with a sweet mixture of humor and sympathy about lunacy and manhood during a period of extraordinary disruption.” —Washington Post

“Beautiful, sprawling…a thoughtful, wonderful exploration of the relationship between science, love, longing and the serendipitous choices people make.” – Vancouver Voice

“Deserving of our admiration and awe. In this quietly poignant book about the search for Planet X (eventually known as Pluto), all of the fictional characters orbiting Clyde Tombaugh, the astronomer who discovered Pluto, are in some way navigating that thin and shifting border between what’s literal and imagined, between what’s real and simply longed for. Pluto, Percival Lowell’s planet, is more than an invisible force exerting gravitational pull. It’s a metaphor for loss and pursuit, for the irregular orbits that define our most meaningful relationships. Byers’s writing, always lyrical, shimmers and trembles and breaks our hearts.”—Boston Globe

“Vivid…lyrical and exact….The search for Planet X offers Mr. Byers a wonderful opportunity for dramatizing the human desire for discovery, but he’s after an even wider story, one that probes the very nature of searching….A deeply generous attempt to explore the forces that make us restless, that make us want to wander the desert or peer into the sky or pace along our own fence lines, dreaming of finding something that might not be out there. Mr. Byers reminds us that whether we’re gripped by desire for a new planet or for another human being, that yearning has dignity and its own strange logic.”—The New York Times

“Expansive, enthralling.” – San Antonio Express-News

“I absolutely loved this novel….Think of the great open spaces of a John Steinbeck novel.  Think of the gin-and-jazz era of Scott Fitzgerald seen through the prism of a fine modern imagination.  The result adds up to a great saga of ideas.” — Readers Digest (UK)

“A writer in seemingly complete control….the plotting is expertly controlled, and the characters are sympathetically drawn…” – Times Literary Supplement

“A compelling examination of the scientific process, and how that process is never totally isolated from the vicissitudes of the human condition…a finely wrought narrative of ambition, obsession and love.” —Detroit Free Press

“…a gloriously expansive view of Depression-era America, from the easy extravagance of the Boston Brahmins to hardscrabble rural life. At its core, this is the story of Clyde Tombaugh, an unassuming Kansas farm kid who achieves international fame for his discovery of Pluto. In addition to Clyde, there is the Harvard crowd that precedes him at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona: Alan Barber, a man of modest background who aspires to the effortless grace of his wealthy colleague, Dick Morrow, and has a crush on Dick’s scholarly and daring girlfriend, Florence. Byers connects Clyde’s story with a number of riveting and eventually interlinking subplots, among them an archeological dig run by the wealthy Felix DuPrie, who has turned his back on the family business to try his hand at unearthing dinosaur bones, and the touching tale of Edward Howe, a former professional boxer who pines after his gorgeous and troubled secretary, whose delusions are portrayed with an amazing sensitivity and realism. Between the faultless storytelling and the juicy historical hook, it looks like a hit.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A closely observed saga of scientific discovery—but with stolen kisses, madness and plenty of other complications. Percival Lowell is a man obsessed by many things: Martian canals, alien species, undiscovered planets lurking at the edges of the solar system. But, as Byers slyly observes, he “was not the only wild-eyed schemer that Arizona ever attracted; indeed, now in the summer of 1928, it can seem as though something in the desert air is drawing them by the carload.” Farmboy Clyde Tombaugh wanders into the pulsing scientific scene as if a less privileged Nick Carraway among the West Egg set and finds himself vying with the best minds Harvard can produce to find the planet Lowell so desperately seeks. Everyone in Byers’s pages is searching for something, whether far away or underneath the dirt—and no one, it seems, is quite content with what he or she has. As Byers’s players peer into the reaches of the universe, hearts break and minds snap. This would all be high-order romance were Byers not such a careful writer and, as it happens, so faithful a historian, and he turns in some lovely lines, among them this one: ‘The mind travels out into the landscape and, finding nothing, returns with the sense that something really is in residence there: something huge, silent, eternal.’ Just so. A fine study in the psychology of yearning, elegantly told.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Fascinating…fresh and astonishing…Brilliant observations about human nature – obsessiveness, laziness, duplicity, and violence, but also creativity, faithfulness, integrity, selflessness, and courage – are all illustrated by unique yet believable, likable characters….This insightful, witty novel grabs the heart and tickles the mind.” – Booklist (starred review)

Long for This World

“Byers follows up his superb debut collection, The Coast of Good Intentions, with a weighty family medical drama.  Henry Moss, a molecular geneticist specialising in Hickman Syndrome…faces an ethical crisis played out against the backdrop of 1999 Seattle, when the feverish dot-com boom was about to bust.  Gripping and agonisingly moving, with the individual dramas of Henry’s wife and children accorded as much attention as the central plot, this is an ambitious novel of great value.” —Chris Power, The Times of London

“A remarkably assured novel unafraid to take on the big themes: mortality, ageing, life and death in the land of plenty.  The ethical dilemma caused to a decent Seattle physician over who will benefit from his discoveries reads like a mid-career masterpiece.  The only disappointment is that, tucked away behind the title page, there is no long list of previous books for the reader to turn to.  For somehow in his apprenticeship, Byers has learnt to write with the energy of John Irving, with John Updike’s eye for the telling detail and Saul Bellow’s profound moral authority.  Another great American writer in the making.” —Publishing News

“I was barely a tenth of the way through Long for This World when I knew I couldn’t bear it to end.  It is a supple work of great intimacy and yet comfortably epic in feel, in which the experiences of one loving Seattle family illuminate our hopes and fears about growing old and mortality….Contrasts reinforce the novel’s elegant sense of unity: the shimmering delight of Byers’s almost sensual prose is juxtaposed with harsh clinical realities; fear of the unknown is set against the thrill of uncharted territory; and a child with no future dreams of being healthy in a parallel universe.  It is about survival, and hope, and I savoured every page.” —Lucy Beresford, Literary Review

“It’s the recipe for a gripping ethical, scientific thriller but author Byers has far greater ambitions, enlarging the focus of his own microscope to take in the complex DNA of human relationships, examining minutely the connections that bind Moss to his wife, their teenage children, their neighbours and the rain-soaked city they inhabit.  Poetically written yet eminently readable, moving but unsentimental, awesome in scope while remaining unpretentious, this is a book to make you realise what books should be about.” — John Harding, The Daily Mail

“The complex drama of medical ethics that evolves girds Byers’s generous prose, counterpointing a subtle familial romance….A big and staggeringly confident book.” —Hephzibah Anderson , The Observer

“A gripping tale” —Unison

The Coast of Good Intentions

“Byers’s stories are imprinted with humour, intelligence and grace.  This faultless collection’s resonances are universal, as is the author’s uncannily skilled turn of phrase.” —Chris Power, The Times of London

“Byers’s trick…is to make this middle ground of happiness a place alive with possibility – he’s moved beyond the dash and dazzle in search of something a little simpler and deeper, and his sensitivity to simple human drama is acute.” —Steve Wright, Venue

“Byers is never self-indulgent, demonstrating in his spare but flowing prose how an individual’s strength of purpose can co-exist with society’s need for restraint.” —Will Hammond, The Observer

“His tone—even-handed, clear-eyed, assured but never brash—suggests a writer who has moved beyond dazzle in search of a method that is simpler, deeper, truer: a middle-aged writer. This is the kind of unintrusive, technically seamless prose that you might not notice if it were anything less than wonderful. Byers moves easily between first- and third-person narration, and he has all the novelist’s important skills—an ear and eye, a sense of humor and an empathetic interest in characters who wouldn’t be so fascinating if you met them on the street….The writing here is alert and unhurried, melancholy and hopeful at the same time, and shot through with the unexpected beauty of the ordinary; it has the grace to make you slow down and remember what life is like.” — The New York Times

“His characters are young and old; male and female; straight and gay; literate and uneducated. All of them, even the walk-ons, are independent and convincing….this [collection] sets Byers apart from most young writers, not only in his generation but in previous ones….Most of Byers’ stories are disarmingly direct and intimate, yet they also represent considerable technical accomplishment; there are complex patterns of mirrors and receding reverberations….Even the shorter stories are resonant and complicated….When Byers is at his best it’s patronizing to call him promising. He’s there already, and what you remember is not his writing but his people, how they feel, and how they get along with the business of living, something Byers understands so well.” — Boston Globe

“It was beginning to look as if oysters would dance jigs before a twentysomething writer ventured into themes beyond stylish maladjustment, self-important self-pity and the glories of decades-old pop culture. Then came The Coast of Good Intentions, a wise, un-Generation-X-like collection…Mr. Byers masterfully portrays incomplete lives and the dull ache in the characters who live them….Seattle and other former frontier towns of the Northwest provide perfect settings for these haunting stories about isolation and possibility.” — The Wall Street Journal

“This collection of eight stories is something any writer could be proud of and any reader moved by. They are the work of a 28-year-old, and that makes them even more astonishing. Michael Byers’ language, character range, perspectives, sensitivity, maturity and clarity are incredible and often profound. He writes about life, love, death, fear, isolation, bonds, will, spirit and, ultimately, hope.” — USA Today

“He gives each location the particularity of a fingerprint….Byers has a wonderful touch when it comes to rendering the middle ground of happiness….This would be an impressive debut for a late-blooming, middle-aged master. Coming from a 28-year-old, it’s an astonishing performance, which makes the word precocious sound limp and irrelevant.” — Amazon.com

“The eight outstanding stories which make up Michael Byers’ distinguished collection are richly diverse in subject and in the ways and means of storytelling, but joined together in the strong evocation of a special place—the author’s homeplace of Seattle and the coast of the Pacific Northwest. Here his memorable people, of all ages and of all kinds of occupations come to fully dimensional life in the context of a clear and graceful prose. And out of their songs and sorrows, Michael Byers invites his fortunate readers to face and to consider the deepest kinds of questions.” — PEN New England Finalist, PEN/Hemingway Award

“In a first collection of short stories, Michael Byers demonstrates a remarkable intensity of watchfulness and a mature richness of variety and understanding. The apparent effortlessness with which he annexes form after form of human life and geographical place is the surest index to his present achievement and his promise.” — American Academy of Arts and Letters, Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction

“All of the stories in this slim book are carefully crafted….Uncommon in my experience are the deft dialogue, the overlay of metaphor and the psychological richness of character.” — Seattle Times

“Set in the Pacific Northwest, these nine careful tales evoke a realism that is complex and ambiguous….The stories are novelistic in how generously they dwell in the shades of doubt and decision endured by the central characters, and how deeply they explore with a compellingly languid pace the breadth of details that make up their resilient lives….The forceful quiet of these stories and the deft slide of their endings, as if they could keep going but simply decide to stop, are evidence of a serious and sophisticated vision. All of these characters—and the very talented Michael Byers—have something more ethereal in mind.” — Ploughshares

“Location and atmosphere enrich every story; but for Byers’s lonely people, fantasy locales (the house never bought, the trip never taken) are as real as any place on the map. Even the loneliest lives in this collection are illuminated by Byers’s mature sense of humor and by prose supple enough to capture the emotional complexity of his characters.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“…astonishing debut collection…these powerfully affecting stories are wise and true, and they should not be missed.” —
Booklist (starred review)

“A strong debut collection of eight stark stories….The sensitivity to human drama is acute in all of these stories…” — Kirkus

“Richly peopled with compelling characters whose wisdom and experiences span the generations….Sweet writing, so clear and strong….It’s a joy to read stories free of bells and whistles and all ghosts except the normal, everyday ones: human beings who want what they can no longer have, and know they cannot give up the wanting, and somehow become reconciled in their lives.” — San Jose Mercury News

“In his first book of fiction, Michael Byers shows us how beautiful the [short story] form can be….a collection of eight graceful stories. Like any serious fiction writer, Byers is concerned with what it means to live as a human being in the world.” — The January Review