Loved it. I have never read Allegra Goodman before, though I've been tempted to many times. I think I feared she was too highbrow, too smart, and the times I thought about picking up Kaaterskill Falls or The Family Markowitz were times when I really needed a quick YA fix or collection of humor columns instead.
But Intuition is a wonderful read: a careful, nuanced portrayal of life and politics in the world of high-stakes scientific laboratories. Cliff, once a golden boy researcher who's since failed to live up to his potential, is on thin ice at the Philpott Institute, a small cancer research lab located near and loosely affiliated with Harvard. He's been experimenting on mice with R-7, a cancer vaccine, for years with no results. Finally, suddenly, a handful of mice in his experimental group show signs of remission. Is R-7 a wonder drug? Is Cliff the new face of hope for cancer patients? Or are his results too good to be true?
Rounding out the characters are Robin, Cliff's quickly-former girlfriend, whose suspicions about the validity of Cliff's data lead to a potentially disastrous NIH inquiry; Sandy and Marion, the lab's directors, whose working relationship threatens to sour under the pressure of the investigation; and Feng, another postdoc whose notions of integrity and diligence provide perhaps the strongest moral compass in the lab. Minor characters such as Sandy's daughter, Robin's neighbors, and Marion's husband give context to the players outside the lab. Sandy's relationships with his three girls, in particular, provide some of the best and most cringe-worthy moments, as his heavy-handed, charisma-laden parenting style keeps him blind to his family's needs.
Goodman is a master of internal monologue, and imbues each character with enough depth that it's impossible to categorize any of them as wholly good or wholly bad. The novel doesn't wrap up neatly, but instead presents a conclusion that feels real: not without consequences for any of the characters, but not without a glimmer of redemption either.
(I particularly enjoyed the shout-out Goodman gives to my college choir and conductor. Not surprising, since her husband is a fellow alum, but delightful nonetheless.)
Intuition by Allegra Goodman. Dial, 2006, 352 pages.
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