The short stories in Archangel, set between the late 19th century and the start of World War II, illuminate human connections in scientific discovery. In “The Investigators” (1908), twelve-year-old Constantine Boyd is sent to his uncle’s farm in upstate New York to protect him from his abusive father. The uncle and his odd household are scientific farmers, and Constantine becomes involved in their experiments and community, eventually experiencing the freedom and promise of a first ever flight. A young teacher from Canada journeys to “The Island” (1873) to attend a natural history course. Arriving early, Henrietta is taken notice of by the famous professor, promising to be a favorite student, until she’s paired with a brilliant young woman who challenges the professor’s creationism. Henrietta matures from ‘a kind of worship’ of the professor to the realization that if Darwin is right “It changes everything,” about the world and her beliefs.
Professional contention is also evident in “The Particles” (1939). Sam, a geneticist, is rescued from a torpedoed ship along with colleagues after a scientific conference where his work had been disparaged. Questioning of established order and beliefs underlies the touching story “The Ether of Space” (1920) when a grieving woman tries to write about and make sense of Einstein’s new theories. Her perceptive son, after attending a lecture by Sir Oliver Lodge refuting Einstein, writes; “the questions we ask about the world and the experiments we design to answer them are connected to our feelings.” In the final story, a pioneering x-ray technician suppresses her feelings for the soldiers she attends, until she meets Constantine Boyd in “Archangel” (1919), during the chaotic termination of World War I. Andrea Barrett’s five stories at once evoke past times and are timeless in their depiction of human reactions to a changing universe.