Craig Nova introduces his latest novel, The Constant Heart

I’d like to say something about this book, but the truth is that so many strands of my life, so many disparate experiences are combined here that when I try to describe it I find myself sort of wide eyed with disbelief.

For instance, I am going to read a section tonight about a young woman who gets into trouble, although her job and part of what gets her into trouble, is selling cars. At one time, when I was in Los Angeles, I spent a summer buying and selling automobiles . . .after about twenty trades and lots of tricks, like raw putting eggs in a hot radiator to stop leaks for a couple of hours, I ended up a hundred dollars in the hole. Then when I was in Vermont I spent a lot of time hanging around a Subaru dealership, owned by a friend of mine, a woman who was really good at selling cars. I was hanging around the Subaru dealership since I was thinking about writing a book about the best car salesman in the world.

And then the main character in this book, or the narrator of it, is an astronomer, and this has to do with the fact that when I was an undergraduate at Berkeley all by friends were sort of science prodigies (one of them graduated from Harvard at 16), and to be able to drink beer or whatever it is we did I had to learn some science. And I am still in touch with these people, and when we talk, it is not about novels or politics but what’s happening in cosmology.

In fact, at Berkeley, if you were in the sciences and finished your course work very quickly, which all these guys did, they gave you a scientific supply catalogue and told you to pick out the equipment to build a high end instrument. So, a friend of mine ordered the stuff to make a mass spectrometer, but when it came, he didn’t know how to put it together, since the little receptacles that held liquid nitrogen had to be torque down. And, since I had worked in gas stations all my life, I borrowed a torque wrench from a gas station in Berkeley and put the mass spectrometer together.

When it came time to pour in the liquid nitrogen, my friend spilled some from the industrial grade thermos they used to carry this stuff around, and a drop of it fell into my shoe. I still have the scar on my ankle.

And through one of these science guys, I met a man I have had a correspondence with for over fifteen years, a man who wrote the message that went on the voyager spacecraft that is just leaving the solar system. He’s done a lot of other stuff, too, like designing the sun dial that is on the Mars’ rover. His name is Jon Lomberg and he was helping me with a nonfiction book I wanted to write at one time, which was about the nuclear war that was fought in this country, that is, when I was growing up, they were still testing bombs in the air in Nevada, and you could see the light from them in Los Angeles, if you got up early . . .sometimes the clouds from these explosions drifted over Los Angeles, and on the local TV weather station they had something called the “School o meter,” which told parents how to dress their kids. It also gave, after a test, the local levels of Strontium 90. And, in the middle of writing of this, I got a note from an old girl friend who recognized herself in a book I had published. And she included all the letters I had written her years before and which she had saved.

Almost all of this has found its way into this book, in one way or another, or was in the background. So, you can see how, when I try to describe this, I get this short circuit feelings.

So, I better just give you the set up for what I am going to read. The book is an account of a man and a woman who fall in love when they are 17, but can’t really face up to it. So, they drift apart, and meet again when they are in their earlier thirties. The man is an astronomer.

The woman has always been in trouble, and in fact she has even ended up in jail. But now she has really gone and done it. Still, she is trying to make up for lost time by making money. She is selling cars in a Subaru dealership. She thinks, somehow, that if she is successful in selling cars and making a lot of money, that will somehow help smooth over this missed chance she and the narrator had years before.

So, here is the set up. A woman is in trouble. This is Sara. She sees an Old boy friend she feels she missed a chance with. He feels it too. They haven’t seen each other for ten years. He is an astronomer. His name is Jake. She sells cars. And she is telling him about the trouble she is in just after they have meet again . . .

So, Sara sells cars. Jake is an astronomer who teaches at a university near the dealership. They’ve run into each other and they go to a bar, where Sara tells him this story . . .


CRAIG NOVA is the award-winning author of twelve novels and one autobiography. His writing has appeared in Esquire, The Paris Review, The New York Times Magazine, and Men's Journal, among others. He has received an Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2005 he was named Class of 1949 Distinguished Professor in the Humanities at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.You can find him on the web at