IT'S ALMOST LIKE MEG KNOWS how to wrinkle the fabric of the universe. Not Madeleine L'Engle's Meg, but British author Scarlett Thomas' Meg—the thirtysomething heroine of her latest novel, Our Tragic Universe. But Meg has no clue about her uncanny ability to get what she wants from the universe. In fact, she's broke. Her boyfriend sucks. And she can't finish her mammoth Serious Novel.
Our Tragic Universe's main strength is the inquisitiveness of Meg, who's the author of a never-ending stream of dystopian YA novels, and a reviewer of new-age science books. Her damp, depressing world comes crashing after reviewing a strange self-help book, which claims that everyone in the universe died billions of years ago and now the population is immortal, trying to get to the next level of evolution by performing heroic acts. This prompts Meg's spiritual journey, as she tries to piece together what it means to be a storyteller and a heroine.
Thomas is a fearless and literate genius, running the topic gamut from hero culture, metafiction, and cryptozoology. Our Tragic Universe never quite reaches the plot-driven heights of her previous books, but it does embody an idea that Meg hits upon: "There's no reason why you can't put something unfamiliar in a familiar container. Or lots of unfamiliar things." So that's why this heroine's archetypal journey is stuffed to the brim with talk of tarot, knitting, and universe creation. Screw the container; give me Thomas' brainy brand of filler any day.