Y

Y: Robert Oppenheimer, Horseman of Los Alamos (Coach House Books, Spring 2018) is a poetic biographical novel of J. Robert Oppenheimer focused on Los Alamos, New Mexico and the the labs where he was leading the Manhattan Project. By weaving the Bhavagad Gita throughout the work, the Hindu long poem serves as Oppenheimer’s moral compass that allows him to explore how, despite his pacifist and communist leanings, he came to justify his work on and the use of a weapon of mass destruction. The recreation of his troubled adolescent years alongside his relationships with his parents and his own children aims is further complicated by his extended affair with his mistress, Jean Tatlock, while he was married to Kitty Puening and how that love triangle, later augmented by Ruth Sherman in the later 1940s, came to shape his life. Reflecting Oppenheimer’s polymath nature, his life story is augmented and recreated with poetic licence by utilizing imagined conversations spliced with poetry and prose that he was known to read and love with the structure of the book replicating a spiral inward in which each chapter is one page (roughly) shorter each time, until, by its end, it concludes in emptiness.