themselves, and a gift to us all, when the writing faculty invites alumni with recent books back for a public reading.
Margaret Lazarus Dean's first novel, The Time It Takes to Fall, is a wonderfully evocative coming-of-age story set in central Florida in the mid-1980s. Dean's protagonist, Dolores Gray, is a precocious middle-school student obsessed with NASA's corps of astronauts, particularly the women among them. Her father is focused on his job as a technician working on the Space Shuttle's solid-fuel rocket boosters; her mother is tightly wired and dissatisfied with her role as a suburban housewife and mother. The domestic drama plays out amid the glory years of the Shuttle program, which came to a sudden end with the spectacular explosion of the Challenger.
And that tragedy, with its emblematic hornlike vapor trail printed on the sky (the sign that would retain its power until it was replaced in our imaginations by the even worse plume of smoke in 2001) becomes the controlling metaphor of the book. Even as it brings the world of NASA money and employment to an end, it helps Dolores's family create a fragile bond, something that may be a tentative sign of hope.