Jennifer Givhan is an award-winning New Mexican author. Her book-length collections of poetry include Rosa’s Einstein(University of Arizona Press, 2019), Girl with Death Mask(Indiana University Press, 2017), Protection Spell (2016 Miller Williams Series, University of Arkansas Press), and Landscape with Headless Mama (2015 Pleiades Editors’ Prize). She is a recipient of a National Endowment of the Arts and a PEN/Rosenthal Emerging Voices fellowship, among other honors, and her work has been widely published in some of the most notable venues in the literary world. This is the powerhouse pedigree Givhan brings to her debut novel; which is to say, when you pick up Trinity Sight, prepare for a bang.
Trinity Sight (published by Blackstone Publishing in late 2019) centers on archaeologist Calliope Santiago. Like Givhan herself, Calliope can trace her lineage back to the Pueblo culture that once peopled the American Southwest, including the iconic city at Chaco Canyon, mysteriously abandoned long before white colonization. It is this personal, familial connection that drives Calliope’s work; while her science-trained mind tries to stick to the rational, her heart has been searching for a means to heal the rifts of grief and guilt, and the many mundane injuries that pass from mothers and daughters.
It is in this state that Calliope’s story begins. While searching, however subconsciously, for a bridge back to her roots, Trinity Sight opens on a literal bridge at the onset of an epic ecological disaster that vanishes most of humankind from the face of the earth, leaving Calliope alone in the wreckage of New Mexico—heavily pregnant with twins.
Trinity Sight is a deeply satisfying book; an accessible, imminently readable inter-genre page-turner that is also, for those who need it, a cathartic spiritual journey. What sets off as a harrowing apocalypse-survival story quickly takes a turn into the mythic and the supernatural, with plot twists and compelling characters born from both Pueblo oral traditions and cultural motifs as well as text-book American history. Givhan’s work balances careful research and creative impulse. The result is an earnest fantastical narrative written with a poet’s tongue.
Apocalyptic fiction always has its appeal, but Givhan’s inspired stab at it comes at an unprecedented moment. In an age when world news grows exponentially more terrifying and ridiculous, neighbors and families are kept apart, and the old ways of living crumbling are at our feet, the plausibility of an end-of-days rings especially true.
While Trinity Sight scratches that particular itch for our modern angst, it also rolls out some very pertinent ethical, ecological, and intimately personal questions for would-be end-of-the-world survivors. Where do we stand, as a nation? As a people? Or as an individual? Do our deeds balance out for the greater good, does our privilege balance out, do we have something to offer? Do we belong? Are we doing justice to our loved ones, living or ancestral? Are we doing justice to the earth — and how would we fare if She suddenly called in a reckoning?
Trinity Sight is also notable for its part in the larger fabric of contemporary women’s stories. One of my favorite aspects of this book is its unflinching look at motherhood and mothering, archetypes that are central to the lives and choices of humans everywhere but are still, so often, dismissed as confessional womb-gazing — that is to say, unremarkable i.e. unmarketable. The pregnancy that Calliope carries across the apocalypse is not a romantic trope or a marketing ploy — it is a real thing, heavy and gross and inconvenient, with which the characters of this story have to grapple.
Similarly, the relationships between Calliope and her fellow travelers reflect the complexity inherent in the act — the choice — of mothering. This is explored most directly in Calliope’s relationship with Eunjoo, her six-year-old neighbor, but also between Calliope and other adults she encounters along her journey. These dynamics are also explored, in retrospect, between Calliope and the family members she has lost. Each of these groupings reframe the same questions, for Calliope and for us: What do we owe each other, as friends, relations, sisters on the road? What do we sacrifice when we give of ourselves? Where do we draw the line? And perhaps, most importantly: what happens when the ties that bind us to one another unravel?
I found Givhan’s meditations on these issues deeply resonant — as is her poetic voice, which breaks through the narrative despite Calliope’s own assertions “I’m no poet.” Yet the author’s styling never detracts from the novel’s page-turning pace. I cheered the story’s revolutions, the outer plot turns mirroring Calliope’s inner journey with such fabulous logic, resulting in a ending that marries mysticism to archaeology in a perfect aha.
My only regret is that, for me, Trinity Sight ends a chapter or two too soon. Ever a fan of leaving some things up to interpretation or mystery, I still wish Givhan had followed Trinity Sight a bit further, even if it meant leaving us open for an obvious sequel. In particular, I would have liked to have seen more in the minds of Calliope’s companions, whose POV are revealed in the odd chapter but otherwise left largely unspoken. I do hope she revisits this world.
This journey bears repeating.
[Shannon Connor Winward is an American editor and writer of manifold things. Her work appears widely in places like Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog, Pseudopod‘s Artemis Rising, The Pedestal Magazine, Lunch Ticket, Eye to the Telescope, and Flash Fiction Online. Shannon is an erstwhile recipient of honors and awards including an emerging artist fellowship from the Delaware Division of the Arts. Her debut poetry collection, Undoing Winter (Finishing Line Press, 2014) earned the SFPA’s Elgin Award for best speculative chapbook. Her first full-length collection, The Year of the Witch (Sycorax Press), was published in 2018.]