A Theory of Relativity

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Published by: A Theory of Relativity
Release Date: April 9, 2002
Pages: 416
ISBN13: 978-0061031991


A Theory of Relativity, the most acclaimed of my novels, was inspired by “the blood relative case,” a real custody case that took place in a city near where I live. When his 26-year-old sister (who suffers from cancer) dies in a car accident with her husband, leaving behind a baby daughter, Gordon McKenna naturally believes he will adopt the baby girl, Keefer, whom he has helped raise. His hopes are dashed in an eight-minute hearing when a judge points out that Gordon, adopted as a newborn, is not a blood relative of Keefer’s and gives custody to a second cousin of the baby’s father. As Gordon fights an ultimately losing battle to become a father, he realizes that he has not yet become a man, and it is his growth as a human being that gives him the maturity, after two years of legal wrangling, to give Keefer up, rather than uproot her from the only home she has known. Fate, however, has other ideas. A Theory of Relativity does not only trace the struggles of one family, but asks the meaning of connection among the members of all families.


A Theory of Relativity is Jacquelyn Mitchard at her best, at work with her most provocative themes, especially the profound matters of identity that become bound up in our love for a child.”
Scott Turow

“Written with a deft hand and born of personal experience … packed with smart observations and segueing smoothly from one plot twist to the next … Mitchard shines.”
Kansas City Star

“It is Mitchard’s considerable talent in rendering the complexity of human emotion that will touch her readers.”
San Diego Union-Tribune

“Mitchard … offers another slam dunk here … these characters are wonderfully human and their wrenching situation is skillfully unfurled.”
Library Journal

“Emotionally intense, sexy, and rendered in fine detail.”
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

“A fine novel … [an] astonishing pleasure.”
Seattle Times


They died instantly.

Or close enough.

Gordon, of course, knew that "instantly," in this context, didn't mean what it seemed to suggest: Several minutes would have passed inside the car after the impact, while the final tick and swoosh of Ray's and Georgia's heart-sent blood swept a pointless circuit, while muscles contracted loyally at the behest of a last volley of neurological commands. But there would have been no awareness, or only a few twilight seconds -- and no memory.

Most of the others in Tall Trees, the McKenna family and their friends, didn't know as much about the biology involved or care to. Small town people, they were
accustomed to having something to be grateful for, even death no more physically
complex than a power failure. It seemed to many a source of comfort. And as the
months unfurled, comfort of any sort was in short supply.

Even Gordon had to admit he was relieved. Couldn't it have been worse, much, much worse?

It could have been. This, Gordon decided, in those few breathless, shocky moments as he prepared to leave his school classroom and drive to the scene of the accident at Lost Tribe Creek, would be his mantra. He would not yowl and quake at this abrupt conclusion to the year of living catastrophically. He would not let himself come unglued. Dread tapped at his gut, like an unwelcome salesman tapping insistently at the window -- Your sister is dead; your sister really is dead! But Gordon breathed in and out, spoke to himself of focus.

He would be the one who remained analytical. Looking at the facts straight on was both his nature and his calling. He could do that best of anyone in his family. It would be the way he would protect himself and his parents.

He was, of course, frightened. All the signs. The trembling legs. The fluttering pulse. It had begun the moment he heard Sheriff Larsen's voice.

"Gordon," said the sheriff, "what are you doing, son?"

What was he doing?

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