Interesting facts about space

Emily R. Austin

Book - 2024

"Meet Enid: a lesbian who's a serial dater and deaf in one ear. She works at The Space Agency as an information architect, and when she's not obsessing over true crime podcasts, she's managing her crippling phobia of bald people. While she tries not think about her teenage years, she can't seem to stop obsessively watching her childhood YouTube channel. But as Enid fumbles her way through her first serious relationship and navigates a new family life with her estranged half-sisters, she starts to worry that someone is following her. As her paranoia starts to take over her life, and the personal growth she's worked to achieve, she gradually discovers the one thing she can't outrun-herself. Brimming with Austin's signature style, charming characters, and irresistible humor, Interesting Facts about Space will remind you to treasure the relationships you hold most dear, and will offer hope to those who seek to connect in ways they never thought to be possible"--

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1st Floor New Shelf FICTION/Austin Emily (NEW SHELF) Due Mar 6, 2024
Psychological fiction
Lesbian fiction
New York : Atria Books [2024]
Main Author
Emily R. Austin (author)
Physical Description
pages cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

Relationships have never been easy for Enid. She doesn't fit in with her more traditional half sisters, and building a friendship with them after their father's death seems impossible. Instead of talking about feelings with her mother, who struggles with mental health, Enid tells her everything she knows about space. She online dates, with women casually and consistently passing through her door, none of them staying. Enid loves true-crime podcasts, sometimes uses her partial deafness to avoid responding to people, and has an irrational fear of bald men. When Enid finds herself in an actual relationship, her casually detached lifestyle becomes challenged, and her fear of bald men worsens when she believes one is stalking her. All the while, she avoids looking inward and facing the deeper struggles she can't ignore forever. Austin's (Everyone in this Room Will Someday Be Dead, 2022) vignette writing style perfectly captures Enid's anxious overthinking in an emotionally relatable way. The novel is quirky, funny, and heartfelt as Enid explores the effects of fear and how vulnerability truly helps us connect to others.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

The offbeat and delightful latest from Austin (Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead) plunges readers into the quirky and turbulent inner life of Enid, an employee at a NASA-like agency. The episodic narrative follows Enid, who is gay, through her daily routine as she reckons with her painful past. She bakes a gender reveal cake for her pregnant half-sister Edna, despite finding the practice "profoundly offensive"; obsessively streams true crime podcasts; worries a mysterious bald man is stalking her (she also has an unexplained fear of bald men); and dates a poly couple. Eventually, she cautiously enters her first serious relationship with Polly, the ex-wife of another woman she'd briefly dated, and begins to confront agonizing memories of her late father, who left her mother for another woman. Enid's preoccupation with random facts about space frequently appears in interactions with her mother ("Did you know astronomers found a planet without a star?" she asks her mother at the beginning of a phone call). Eventually, realizing she ought to deal with her phobia of bald men and her troubling memories, Enid begins seeing a therapist. The adventure inside her mind is engrossing, funny, and full of depth. Readers will fall for this unusual and lovable protagonist. (Jan.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A 26-year-old woman works to better understand how her past is affecting her present relationships. Enid, an information architect at the Space Agency and a true-crime aficionado, is caught in a complicated behavioral pattern of her own making, she thinks. Her father left her mother when she was young to start another family, destroying her mother emotionally in the process. Her half sisters, Edna and Kira, have recently welcomed her into their lives. But Enid is convinced that there's something wrong with her, despite having a good job, a good life, and being a caring daughter to her mother (who suffers from severe bouts of depression). She has a phobia about bald men, cleans obsessively, and dates continually yet refuses to stay with anyone longer than a month or two; she's also unhappy with her proclivity to take the easiest route and lean into expected behavior rather than doing what she believes is best. Case in point: Though she's a lesbian who has a complicated relationship with her gender identity, when her half sister asks her to bake a cake for her sister's gender reveal party, she immediately says yes and then berates herself for not standing up for what she believes in. The novel follows Enid as she seeks to better understand her worsening phobias and the way they've started to negatively affect her job and life. She starts therapy, begins to let people see the real her, and works to unpick the knots in her memory that are compromising her ability to live her life. Enid is introspective without being irritating. A complicated, layered exploration of how bullying, fear, and a desperate desire to fit in have lasting effects. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Chapter One CHAPTER ONE " The teenaged girl was brutally axed to death by her grandmother ." A cashier is scanning my groceries. I have headphones in. My favorite true crime podcast is playing. I read the cashier's lips. She asks, "How are you today?" while the podcast host simultaneously says, " They found the girl's body in the old lady's basement ." "I'm good, thanks, how are you?" I put the divider between my groceries and the groceries belonging to the man behind me. I would hate to accidentally purchase his Vienna sausages, or worse--for him to get away with my tampons. The podcast host explains that the teenager's body was found decomposing in a Rubbermaid bin in her grandmother's fruit cellar. Despite the rotting corpse, the grandmother continued to use the fruit cellar. Along with murder, the woman's hobbies included canning. The body was found next to stacks of fruit preserves and pickled beets. "Do you need bags?" the cashier asks. "No, thank you, I brought my own." I gesture to my tote bag. The podcast host jokes, wondering if the grandmother ever considered pickling the dead body. I snort at the grotesque concept while the cashier kindly scans my boxed cake mix and Midol. Sometimes you have to joke about things like pickling murdered teenagers. It's a coping mechanism. It takes the darkness out at the knees. "Excuse me!" A man rams into my shoulder. The unexpected impact propels my belongings from my hands. My phone, keys, credit card, and the entrails of my wallet sail before me. The angry man storms onward. He does not pause to look back. A Good Samaritan kneels to help recover my belongings. "Thank you," I say. "No problem. Why did that man shove you?" "I'm not sure." She stands up. "He must have anger management issues." I nod. "He probably has a parasite." "What?" "Nothing. Thank you again." I was born deaf in one ear. Sometimes, I'm glad I was. I can easily tune irksome people out. I sleep better. I'm less disturbed by irritating sounds. It took me longer to learn to speak than most people, though. I didn't hear as clearly as other babies. I don't always respond when addressed on my bad side. When strangers say "Excuse me" while trying to pass me, I'm often oblivious to it. I know that because every so often the situation escalates. People shout " Excuse me! " as if I'm rude for not hearing them the first time. When I learned to speak, my first word was "mom." My mom told me that, though, and it's possible that she has reworked the record. I would not be shocked to learn that my first words were less stirring. Perhaps I said something meaningless, like "grass," or something embarrassing, like "butts." I would not put it past my mother to spare me the truth, if that were the case. That said, I am sure that I did say "mom" somewhere near the beginning. My tampon box is peeking over my bag like a pervert peeking over a windowsill. As I exit the store, I try to strategically position my arm to conceal the box and prevent strangers from knowing which stage of the ovarian cycle I am at. I turn the volume of my podcast up. " The contents of the teenager's stomach revealed that she had eaten peaches two hours before her death. Her autopsy also showed that she ..." There is a pause for emphasis. "... was two months pregnant ." Sharp pain radiates from my lower back. I fish into my tote bag for the Midol I just bought. While searching, the automatic door behind me opens. A blast of air-conditioning cools my back. I glance at the customer exiting. It's a man carrying a forty pack of toilet paper above his head like it's a trophy. He has sweat stains in his armpits and the noticeable outline of a condom in his pocket. I discreetly swallow a dry pill while I listen to the podcast host say, " It was soon discovered that the girl was dating an older man named Jerry Nit. Jerry, a bald man in his early forties-- " I rip my headphones out and immediately google "space news." Flashes on the sun could help us predict solar flares. Solar flares can impact Earth. They can disrupt radio communications and create electrical blackouts. "Am I speaking to Enid?" a woman in my phone asks. I can't tell if it's scorching out, if I'm having period-induced hot flashes, or if I've taken a wrong turn and accidentally descended into hell. My back aches. I'm lugging home groceries. My shirt is pasted to my wet body like papier-mâché. I skipped the previous episode of my podcast and am now listening to the next. This new episode is about a cannibal. The host was just detailing how the man seasoned his human flesh (thyme and rosemary), when the story was interrupted by my phone ringing. "Yes?" I struggle to hold my phone up to my good ear. My tote bag presses into my shoulder. Sweat stings my eyes. "Are you fucking Joan?" The woman's voice cracks. I stop walking. A cyclist in full-body purple spandex swerves around me. He rings his bell as he pedals furiously ahead. "Are you dating Joan?" I ask. I had no idea Joan had a girlfriend. "No," she says. I exhale, relieved. "I'm her wife." The strap of my tote bag slips from my shoulder and slides down my arm. I fumble to grab it, but my box of tampons topples out. After performing a double backflip, the box lands upside down on the mauve rug lining the hallway of my apartment as if it's just landed the splits. Before I can recover the box, a door in the hallway opens. Light from inside the apartment shines a yellow block on the rug. I hear keys jingle and a man sigh. Someone new just moved into that unit. I prepare myself to greet him. I position my face, ready to smile at the sight of him. I watch his shadow overtake the block on the rug before the light switch is flipped, the glow vanishes, and a tall man, with keys dangling from his teeth, enters the threshold. The man is bald. I smell smoke. Am I choking? The top of his head is gleaming beneath the hallway light. His scalp is so shiny it looks like it's about to catch fire. More groceries fall from my bag. Tostitos. Icing sugar. Our eyes connect. Bosc pears roll, lopsided like tipped bowling pins, across the carpet. The man glances at the avalanche of groceries tumbling around me. I stare at him, frozen, like the face of a mountain in a landslide. I smell something burning. "Do you need help?" he asks. I feel my stomach drop. "No," I say. "No," I repeat until he leaves. Red food coloring bleeds into the yellow cake batter. I stir until the batter turns into a muted, pale pink. I am baking a gender reveal cake despite understanding that the practice is profoundly offensive. It involves dying the insides of a cake pink or blue, so that a pregnant person can slice into it and discover the sex of their offspring. I am doing it because one of my half sisters is pregnant, and she asked me to. It was offered as a sort of olive branch. I considered explaining why I would prefer not to, as well as why I would recommend against celebrating an infant's genitals entirely, but my sisters and I barely know each other, and sadly, I have discovered a new character flaw to add to my already long list of defects: I would sacrifice my values to oblige my estranged sisters. I want them to like me. I feel like a stray dog, rejected by our sire, trying to be accepted in his new litter of puppies. I don't want them to think I'm some fleabag mutt, or a coyote masquerading as a house dog. I'm a purebred golden retriever, just like them. I want them to think I'm a clean, bug-free, normal dog. I want to prove that our dad was wrong. I am a good girl. There is something animalistic about it. I feel a bizarre biological drive to connect to them because they're my sisters. Maybe there's some evolutionary benefit to that. Maybe someday I might need their kidneys or some bone marrow. The primal part of my brain wants me to have a relationship with them because we're blood. I'm supposed to be in their pack. I think they might feel that biological drive too. That must be why they keep inviting me to events. On a subconscious level, they want my bone marrow. I keep abandoning my baking to ensure my door is locked and to look out my peephole. I put both hands on either side of the hole before peeking out. There are red cake-battered handprints on my door. Each time I spot them, they startle me. I think, Are those my bloodied handprints? Am I a ghost? Did my neighbor kill me earlier? Am I trapped in here, reliving my attempted escape for eternity? Then I remember that I am baking a cake and rush back to the oven to watch it rise. My mom taught me to watch the oven. When she cooks, she stays beside the food. She has a stool she sits on in her kitchen. It is important, she says, to keep an eye on a hot oven. She also says, for her, it's like watching a show. She likes to witness cookies rise, butter melt, and the edges of vegetables blacken. She turns the oven light on, looks through the window in the door, and watches food turn brown and hiss. I tried to use an oven timer shortly after I moved out for school. I didn't hear it go off. I thought I would hear it. I always heard the timer at my mom's house. I think she may have bought a special timer with my hearing in mind. It had a lower sound than most timers do. I can't always hear high-pitched noises. It's because of something called head shadow; when you have single-sided deafness, high-frequency sounds don't bend the way they're supposed to. I was cooking a frozen pizza. The fire alarm went off. At first, I thought, Oh, is that the oven timer? I skipped off to my smoky kitchen, amid the screech of my alarm, where I discovered the tragic remains of a pizza so severely burnt it could have been mistaken for an enormous double chocolate cookie. This morning, I polished a glass platter to ice the cake on. I set it out on my counter before going to the grocery store. While putting my groceries away, I noticed it looked like it had been moved slightly. It seemed to have shifted since the morning, an inch or two to the right. I am examining it now. I hold it up above my face, in front of the pendant light hanging from my kitchen ceiling. It is a clear platter with little carvings of grapes and vines on it. It looks dirty again, somehow. It looks almost as if someone has touched it. There are little marks, maybe fingerprints, all over it. This is unsettling because I live alone, and, like I said, I just polished it this morning. I take my phone out of my back pocket and open my email. Maybe my landlord came by and touched it. I have only lived in this apartment for a year, but my landlord has managed to come by at least fourteen times already. He has never provided sufficient legal notice. I see that I do have an email from him. Dear resident, This is a reminder that absolutely no pets are allowed on the premises. This includes small pets, such as goldfish, hamsters, or birds. Regards, Peter I roll my eyes. I do not have a pet; however, I have an inkling that Peter believes I lied to him about that. He sends me frequent anti-pet reminders like this one. I always respond along the lines of, " I have no pets, Peter ," but nothing I say prompts him to relent. Maybe he was in my apartment today, snooping around for an illegal bird, touching my glass platter. "Please, hurry, come in." I hold my apartment door open for Polly, the woman whose wife I've been seeing. I want her to come inside quickly so I can avoid seeing my bald neighbor again. "Can I get you a glass of water?" I look over her shoulder while trying to hustle her inside. Earlier, over the phone, she asked me if we could speak in person. I said, "Yes, of course," and told her my address. As I baked the cake celebrating baby genitals, I reflected on whether that was a prudent choice. Meeting your date's wife is sort of like online dating; it is better to meet in public. I do a lot of online dating though, and I rarely ever meet in public. That safety protocol is more applicable to straight women. One of the perks of being a lesbian is that it is less critical for me to vet whether my date will kill me. I tend to fear I am the person in the equation who dates should be wary of. I have been giving my address out to strange women, willy-nilly. I did not stop to consider whether I should suggest a coffee shop, park bench, or police station parking lot to Polly. Her face is flushed. She has beads of sweat resting on her forehead and upper lip. She ignores me. Her eyes dart around my apartment. She walks inside gingerly, like a newly adopted cat. She looks at the blush-colored, un-iced cake on my counter, and at the dirty dishes piled in my sink. I usually tidy up before having company. I wash my dishes, bleach the bathroom, make my bed, and sometimes even spray perfume, time permitting. I often go as far as to leave out books that I think reflect well on me, or to pause a premeditated show on my TV. I welcome my guest inside, acting as if I was just casually reading or watching, and not as if it has all been staged. In this case, I thought it might be more polite not to do any of that. Thoughtfully, I chose to wear a dirty shirt, and to keep my house askew. I left the red handprints on my door, and the dishes I made in the sink. I did not apply deodorant or comb my hair. In an effort to soften the blow of her wife's infidelity, I am offering her solace in the fact that at least I am a disgusting slob. I lock the dead bolt and look out the peephole. When I turn around, I see her tilt her head, confused. I realize it might have been strange of me to lock her inside my filthy apartment, and to look out the peephole after. This is how murderers behave after luring victims inside. In an attempt to seem less like a murderer, I say, "It's nice to meet you." She furrows her brow and does not say it back. I recognize in the silence that it probably is not very nice to meet the person your wife has been cheating on you with. "I'm sorry," I decide to add. She closes her eyes. "I didn't know Joan was married--" "How long has this been going on?" she interrupts. "I'm not sure," I say. "Let me check." I open my phone. I scroll up in my text conversations with Joan to unearth when we started talking. Polly and I stand quietly while I scroll. I finally reach the top of our texts and announce, "One month." I look into her face to see if that is good news or bad news. A month is quite short, I think. It's not like it has been going on for years. A month is nothing, really. It's a blip. She puts her face in her hands. Her shoulders quake. Maybe it was her birthday this month. Maybe it was their wedding anniversary. "Are you sure I can't get you some water?" I ask. She doesn't reply. She cries silently into her palms. "I feel terrible about this," I say, my throat tightening. I feel something twitch in my stomach. "It's not your fault," she says, uncovering her face. "We've been unhappy for a while." Tracks of mascara are sledding down her cheeks. "We've had a difficult year. Joan's dad died four months ago. There's a crack in the foundation of our house that we can't afford to fix. I think I might have MS--" I don't know what to say. She exhales loudly, then looks me dead in the eyes. I do not look away. She and I stare into each other's pupils for longer than is comfortable. Her irises are the same color as Mars, rusty brown and bloodshot. Her eyelashes are clumped with wet mascara. This moment feels very intimate. Neither of us are speaking. I look at her mascara tracks and think of the slope streaks that form on Mars when it is warm, and there are landslides. We have blinked more than once and are still staring. Blinking. Should I say something? She is breathing heavily, as if she can't catch her breath. What should I say? Should I tell her about recurring slope lineae on Mars? Her chest is pounding up and down. I watch tears build and roll over her eyelashes before trickling down her cheeks in a way that reminds me of being a kid in the back seat of my mom's van, watching rain roll down the window. "I don't really like Joan," I say. "If that's any consolation. I've been dating other people." "Really?" she says, her voice cracking. "Yes. I just went on a date with someone else last night. I have like ten dating apps on my phone. Look." I open my phone to show her. She looks, grunts, then exhales loudly. Her sad tears convert into cries of laughter. She starts cackling. She holds on to my shoulder for balance while she throws her head back, roaring. I am not sure what to do. I laugh too, not because I find it funny, but because the break in tension is such a relief that laughter emerges from me like steam from a hot kettle. Polly and I are lying on my kitchen floor drinking cans of gross, floral-tasting craft beer. A woman I had over last week abandoned them in my fridge. I'm tipping my can to my lips and mulling about gravity. Right now, there is an invisible force compelling this liquid to fall into my mouth. It's pulling planets toward the sun, and the moon into Earth's orbit. It's what's keeping Polly and me on this tile right now. It causes ocean tides. It's not just mass it affects, either. It pulls light. "My first girlfriend cheated on me," she says. "I broke up with her right away. I remember standing in her doorway, shouting that I didn't deserve that. I felt so enraged. I was devastated by it, and it fucked me up, but that sort of fueled me to break off all contact with her, and to stand up for myself. I felt so mad." She sighs. "I don't think I have the energy for this. I'm thirty-seven. I already felt emotionally drained before this. I don't think I have the capacity to feel impassioned. And breaking up with Joan isn't just emotionally exhausting, we have car payments--do you know what I mean? We own a house together. And I hate moving. How exactly am I going to meet someone new? Half the time I'm too tired to grocery shop. I can't take on finding a new girlfriend. Do I have to live alone now? I don't think I can live alone. I'd be so lonely. It feels like my options are to bottle up that this happened, and stay in this sad relationship, or to leave and be sad alone. I have this sickening, hollow feeling in my stomach." She is looking at the ceiling. "I told Joan every fleeting thought I had," she continues. "She knew every little part of my life. I told her if I tripped walking to work. I told her what I ate when she wasn't around. She had a full relationship behind my back. I feel like I never knew her. She knew which yogurt brand to buy me, do you know what I mean? It's as if my entire world has been built on a fault line." I watch her like a voyeur, as if I am observing her doing something private through her curtains. I feel how I would watching her undress or use the bathroom. I feel like I'm not supposed to see this. "Have you ever been cheated on?" She rolls over. "N-no," I answer, swallowing a swig of my disgusting beer. "But I have, uh, never really dated someone exclusively." I look away from her to avoid witnessing her reaction. I am twenty-six years old, and I have never been in an exclusive relationship. I do not often disclose that kind of personal information to people, let alone total strangers, but Polly has been spewing her guts, so I feel like I owe her something. I swallow again. "My dad cheated on my mom, though. I was their only kid. He started a whole new family. He ended up having two other daughters. That's probably the closest experience I've had to this. Do you think that might feel kind of similar?" "I don't know," she says. "It depends. How do you feel about that?" I open my mouth. I don't know what to say. I pause for a moment, holding my jaw open, like a door, waiting for unexpected words to emerge. None materialize. "Do you not know how you feel?" she asks. I glance at her. "I guess mostly I feel bad for my mom." Polly is doing my makeup. I stopped wearing makeup several years ago, but she asked if she could put some on me. I felt like I had to say yes on account of having sex with her partner and ruining her life. I think she might be drunk. She has only had two beers, but she seems unbalanced and flushed. She keeps suppressing hiccups. My eyes are closed. I can feel makeup brushes sweep across my eyelids and Polly's slight fingers touch my jaw. The makeup she is using smells like chalk and roses. "You have nice skin," she says as she rubs something liquid into my cheeks. "Thank you," I say. "I used to have acne. I took pills for it." "You'd never know," she says. "My skin is terrible. I've got wrinkles." "You're older than me," I say, endeavoring to console her by flagging that it makes sense that she has some wrinkles. As soon as the words escape, I wish I could take them back. They came out wrong. "I mean," I try to backpedal. "Just--I'm sure when I'm your age, I'll have worse wrinkles than you do. I'm sure when you were twenty-six you had better skin than me. That's all I meant." I'm floundering. "You have nice skin," I assert. I think of telling her my favorite planet is Mercury. It has the most craters. I decide not to. Maybe it would sound rude. I say, "I-I noticed you had nice skin when you came in. You have very nice skin, really. You have nice hair, too. You're really pretty, honestly--" I feel her mouth touch mine. My eyes were closed, so I was not prepared. I do not flinch, but I am startled. I open my eyes and watch her kiss me, confused. I lather soap on Polly's back in the shower. I think she's crying, but it is hard to tell under the running water. She suggested we shower together. I assumed it would be a sort of sexual, revenge-fueled shower, but instead she is sitting, hugging her knees, and I am washing her back like the loving nurse of a tired, geriatric patient. I shampoo and condition my hair, and then Polly's. I rinse her curls and wring the water out. I consider shaving my legs but am concerned the precedent set might require I also shave hers, which is more than I feel qualified, or willing, to do. Instead, I stand behind her, like a Peeping Tom watching a vulnerable, naked stranger for so long that my skin begins pruning. I think of a podcast episode I listened to recently that mentioned dead human flesh turning to mush after being left prolonged in a shower. When we finally emerge from my steamy bathroom, I hand two towels to Polly. Only three of my towels are clean. The rest are dirty in my hamper. I normally use two; one for my hair and one for my body. I decided to be a good host, and mistress, and to sacrifice my hair towel to her. I wrap the remaining towel around my torso and let my wet hair drip down my back. I feel a draft as we exit the bathroom. I wipe water off my brow with my forearm, and glance around my apartment. I notice that my bedroom window is open. The curtains are swaying. "Did you open that?" I ask, clutching my towel tighter to my body. I know I didn't open it. She wraps her hair in her towel and says, "No, I haven't even been in there." I stare at the curtains wafting toward and away from the window, like lungs breathing in and out. Who opened that? Excerpted from Interesting Facts about Space: A Novel by Emily Austin All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.