TUESDAY

Alan Lightman’s new book, Reunion, involves no physicists, biologists, chemists, astronomers, or geologists—not even a token sociologist. The book’s hero, Charles, a poet and literature professor at some “leafy little college,” has gotten no closer to science than a nearly failed college biology class. And not only is Charles an unrepentant humanist, he’s a pretty uninteresting one. He doesn’t seem to do much research, much teaching, or, come midafternoon, much at all. He does, however, decide to attend his 30-year college reunion, which causes him to relive a senior-year romance with an attractive but flighty ballerina. Ick—give us some quantum electrochromatics already. Why would Lightman, author of Einstein’s Dreams, a book that wove the esoteric foundations of relativity theory into a narrative fluid enough to land it on best-seller lists and make it a National Book Award finalist, toss aside his bread and butter so enthusiastically? Even the author’s previous detours around the harder edges of science (1995’s Good Benito and 2000’s The Diagnosis) explored the internal worlds of his characters with a methodical precision befitting a professor of physics (which Lightman teaches, along with creative writing, at MIT). But with its wispy characters and shopworn plot, Reunion leaves the reader simply with Lightman the novelist. Einstein’s Dreams put Lightman in the company of Arthur C. Clarke, Thomas Pynchon, and Neal Stephenson—great writers who draw from the sciences to create enthralling fiction—but Reunion would be more comfortable in Oprah’s book club. Lightman reads at 7 p.m., Tuesday, July 29, at Olsson’s Books & Records, 1200 F St. NW. Free. (202) 347-3686 (Mike DeBonis)