Stephen P. Kiernan writes with heart and humor. Both Brenda and Charlie are flawed and interesting, dealing with the disruptions of young love and uncertain war. Kiernan manages to balance serious historical questions and ethical issues with lively characters, sharp dialogue, and marvelous historical detail ... a great read.
With Charlie’s narration being told through present-tense war time, and Brenda’s looking back through older and wiser eyes, this telling is an effective tool to merge both the urgency of the moment and the lessons learned from it ... neither a justification nor an apology. Rather it is an even-handed examination of the urgency of war against our own complicity in the violence we visit upon others ... carries within it a powerful story of hope without minimizing the weight of the effects of war. It is an honest, compelling tale of the human cost of war and the fight that occurs when war ends and redemption begins.
... delivers the mild, pleasing-though-antiquated satisfactions of a World War II movie starring, say, Steward Granger and Donna Reed ... The 'weak-chinned' but resolute young man learns to solder expertly — if way too slowly for readers’ comfort ... The portrait of the workstations and barracks at Los Alamos through Charlie’s initially innocent eyes is mildly interesting. As he becomes increasingly aware of the disturbing nature of his work, the narrative becomes urgent ... There isn’t a lot of suspense built into Universe of Two. Readers know long before Charlie does what he’s working on and how it will be used. They also know that for all the crossed signals between Brenda and Charlie, the two will marry and share a long and happy life ... A cloying note on which to end a sentimental but well-intentioned book.
... this fascinating novel delves into the guilt and remorse that wracked him for his part in the development of the atomic bomb. The story moves slowly but steadily, highlighting daily life during World War II. The two main characters are complex and flawed, but when they come together, their world is in harmony ... General readers and those interested in the time period will enjoy this brutally honest novel by the author of The Baker's Secret.
Kiernan...movingly charts a couple’s relationship alongside the development of WWII’s Manhattan Project ... Kiernan recreates the zeitgeist of America leading up to the atomic bomb on a national and personal level: the eager anticipation of wartime’s end, the grimly fascinating science, and the growing sense of guilt and dread. Simultaneously tender and hard-hitting, this riveting story offers much to reflect upon.
Brenda’s retrospective musings reveal a long marriage to Charlie. Kiernan overcompensates for that loss of suspense, interposing obstacles in the path of true love—a half-hearted detour with a handsome airman on Brenda’s part—but they’re mostly snits and misunderstandings that aren’t believably characteristic of either protagonist. Kiernan’s view of American women’s roles in World War II seems outdated even for that time. Contemporaneous accounts of the homefront belie his apparent supposition that all women did was pine for manly, battle-hardened men. This drama of nuclear dawn fails to launch.
... lackluster ... The details of Los Alamos are fascinating, but characterization isn’t Kiernan’s strong suit; he only scratches the surface of his protagonists, and the story of their courtship, which takes up a good chunk of the novel, falls flat. This feels like a generic love story with the Manhattan Project tacked on for emotional heft.