Coulter Zahn sees reality differently than others. Much like light can theoretically be in all places at once, Coulter sees multiple versions of his life. A promising PhD candidate at MIT, he and his young wife are nervously expecting their first child. When his dissertation comes under intense criticism, his estranged mother returns, and Sara tells him she's leaving him, Coulter’s already delicate mental state becomes further fragmented.
One evening, with his life and mental health unraveling, Coulter loses control, irreparably changing the course of the lives around him. But the very next morning, he catches a break in his research, discovering the true shape of the universe. Influenced by those around him and his own untrustworthy psyche, Coulter must decide whether to face the consequences of his actions or finish his research, perhaps making the greatest contribution to science since Einstein’s theory of relativity.
ISBN Trade Paperback: 978-1-77168-099-8
FICTION - Literary | 320 pages
List Price: $14.95 | November 1, 2016
***** Shortlisted for 2015 Horatio Nelson Fiction Prize
"An Elegant Theory is a literary Rorschach test, a mind-bending ride, in which “real” conclusions are elusive, and discovery always waits just beyond the next page." — Foreword Reviews
"A delightfully intelligent psychological thriller, Noah Milligan’s debut novel is as ambitious and complex as its main character, Coulter Zahn, who aspires to nothing less than a complete understanding of the universe. An Elegant Theory intrigues the mind, thrills the senses, and keeps the reader engaged straight through to the surprising ending. An auspicious debut." ~ Rilla Askew, Author of Kind of Kin
"An Elegant Theory is a vibrant puzzle of a novel, an unstoppable force—full of twists, turns, and surprises while remaining fully grounded in real life to today. I sped straight through this one and when I got to the last page, I even considered starting again just to see how the story might change knowing what I knew by the end. I’ll be watching out for Noah Milligan. Surely, this is the start of a great literary career." ~ Jessica Anya Blau, Author of The Trouble with Lexie
"An Elegant Theory is a remarkably suspenseful literary novel -- deeply felt, and truly fascinating. Noah Milligan's ambitious debut novel is a page-turning story of obsession, and the human mind stretched to its limit, where we discover both the remarkable power and fragility of our brains." ~ Peter Mountford, Author of A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism, and The Dismal Science
“What does this tell us about the nature of light?” I again asked.
Again, no answer.
“Have you seen anything like this before?”
“In the ocean maybe?”
They did not understand. But I couldn’t blame them for this. When I’d first witnessed this phenomenon, I’d been amazed, but I had not understood. It took many years for me to grasp the possibilities. What we observe in the double-slit light experiment is called a probability wave. In essence, we are not viewing the actual light from the light bulb passing through the slits to the reflector plate, only the probability that we will find light there. The brighter the reflection, the more probable we will find an individual photon. Darker, the less probable.
At first I had accepted this as a plain fact, a probability wave. It made sense. I could do the math associated with it. I could regurgitate it on a test. I could impress my father with it at home. But I always knew I was missing something. And then, at my first year of graduate school, it hit me: the nature of probability in quantum realms does not bend to certainties. There will never be a one hundred percent chance that an event will happen.
Nor, for any given location is there a zero percent chance that light can be found there. It may be miniscule, approaching a billionth of one percent, but it will never reach zero. Thus, an individual photon must literally travel through every conceivable path from the light source to end up on the reflector plate. It travelled from the rear of the auditorium and back to land on our reflector plate. It zigzagged up Blonde #2’s nostrils, out her ear, and then landed on the reflector plate. It zoomed from the light source to Alpha Centauri and landed back here, on Earth, on our reflector plate. In quantum mechanics, we cannot pinpoint exactly where a particular photon will be in one given instance, only the probability of it being in that spot. The strange reality is that all these possibilities actually occur.
I oftentimes daydream I can see all these possibilities playing out, the smallest changes causing ripple effects that alter the future, what’s called the Butterfly Effect. Yet, they don’t feel like daydreams. They feel so real, the scene unfolding before me so vividly, my consciousness so lucid. It is as if I am an astral projection, an invisible voyeur able to witness all of our alternate universes. Sometimes I’m not even there. I’ll see my mother after she’d left home and moved to California. I’ll see myself as a child with my father and his girlfriend right after Mom left. I’ll see myself in the future with my dead wife and son, us middle-aged, he a teenager. It’s a strange feeling these sightings. When they happen I lose all sensation of the present, and when I come back to, I have no memory of the lost time.