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Hailed as “a writer of uncommon clarity” by the New Yorker, National Book Award finalist Allegra Goodman has dazzled readers with her acclaimed works of fiction, including such beloved bestsellers as The Family Markowitz and Kaaterskill Falls. Now she returns with a bracing new novel, at once an intricate mystery and a rich human drama set in the high-stakes atmosphere of a prestigious research institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Sandy Glass, a charismatic publicity-seeking oncologist, and Marion Mendelssohn, a pure, exacting scientist, are codirectors of a lab at the Philpott Institute dedicated to cancer research and desperately in need of a grant. Both mentors and supervisors of their young postdoctoral protégés, Glass and Mendelssohn demand dedication and obedience in a competitive environment where funding is scarce and results elusive. So when the experiments of Cliff Bannaker, a young postdoc in a rut, begin to work, the entire lab becomes giddy with newfound expectations. But Cliff’s rigorous colleague–and girlfriend–Robin Decker suspects the unthinkable: that his findings are fraudulent. As Robin makes her private doubts public and Cliff maintains his innocence, a life-changing controversy engulfs the lab and everyone in it.
With extraordinary insight, Allegra Goodman brilliantly explores the intricate mixture of workplace intrigue, scientific ardor, and the moral consequences of a rush to judgment. She has written an unforgettable novel.
In another quiet but powerful novel from Goodman (Kaaterskill Falls), a struggling cancer lab at Boston's Philpott Institute becomes the stage for its researchers' personalities and passions, and for the slippery definitions of freedom and responsibility in grant-driven American science. When the once-discredited R-7 virus, the project of playboy postdoc Cliff, seems to reduce cancerous tumors in mice, lab director Sandy Glass insists on publishing the preliminary results immediately, against the advice of his more cautious codirector, Marion Mendelssohn. The research team sees a glorious future ahead, but Robin, Cliff's resentful ex-girlfriend and co-researcher, suspects that the findings are too good to be true and attempts to prove Cliff's results are in error. The resulting inquiry spins out of control. With subtle but uncanny effectiveness, Goodman illuminates the inner lives of each character, depicting events from one point of view until another section suddenly throws that perspective into doubt. The result is an episodically paced but extremely engaging novel that reflects the stops and starts of the scientific process, as well as its dependence on the complicated individuals who do the work. In the meantime, she draws tender but unflinching portraits of the characters' personal lives for a truly humanist novel from the supposedly antiseptic halls of science.