This is a story about the struggle to connect and communicate and about the balance between (selfishly?) finding and fulfilling one’s identity and how that may come at the expense of sharing one’s life with those whom they love and who need them. It shows the dissonance between three astronauts who seemingly know exactly what their goals are and where their lives are going (Mars), and people they love who are wandering, floating, just trying to figure things out, with and without their astronauts. We find that each character, astronauts included, is wandering in their own way, and aren’t we all?
I get a lot of vibes similar to Good Morning, Midnight which also has peripheral space exploration elements and explores some similar themes. One of the things that makes that book work better for me, despite its more grim tone, is the focus on only two perspectives. The character portraits in The Wanderers are still nuanced but some of the seven POVs seem excessive and unnecessary. Especially the awkward seventh wheel dude, what was his name, Jason? Nick? I honestly can’t remember.
Thrown in are the shared experiences and the dynamics between the three astronauts who get matched together because of their apparent compatibility in preparation for a mission to Mars. I got some serious claustrophobia reading about their increasing paranoia while living in a bubble as their actions are scrutinized not only by those in charge of the Mars mission, but by their families and the world at large, on account of their being some of the most recognizable people on Earth. Which is interesting because they’re not even in space yet, just in simulation somewhere in Utah (view spoiler). That’s about as much plot as there is, and even then it almost takes away from the intimate character studies. It’s a lovely book but one that I didn’t connect with emotionally as much as I’d like to have.