Excerpt from Origin by Diana Abu-Jaber, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Origin

A Novel

By Diana Abu-Jaber

Origin
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  • Hardcover: Jun 2007,
    384 pages.
    Paperback: May 2008,
    384 pages.

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Alyce keeps wandering in and out of the office, shooting me the evil eye.

“What?”

She bunches up her face. “You know what. I can’t believe you.”

“What?” I feel touchy and helpless. I flash again on the wild, imprisoned look on Erin Cogan’s face.

“That woman—you just had to talk to her.”

“What would you have had me do, Alyce?”

She clicks her tongue and walks out. Sylvie, another colleague, looks up at me sympathetically from her desk near the door, her streaky blonde hair falling in her face. Margo sighs, leans back in her chair and centers a damp washcloth on her forehead. “What was that,” she says. “What just happened.” We loiter around the office until someone gets the idea for an early lunch.

The four of us congregate at a table in the tank. That’s what we call our break area because of the white tile walls, the windows covered with a fine wire mesh, and the fluorescent lights. Margo turns her chair at an angle to mine: I can feel her watch me as I browse through a file, a half-sandwich resting on the inside of the folder. Margo, who came to Criminalistics five years ago, is 29, the youngest, but she’s the only mother among the four of us. She started in arson and fire debris examination, but she’s training in DNA typing—which is where all the “excitement” is, she says—and soon she’ll be moving to a newer office downstairs.

“So that’s the Cogan file, isn’t it,” she says.

I show her the folder name.

“What do you think?” she asks.

I run my fingertip over the examiner’s report. “Mother’s a smoker — the baby slept on his stomach — the paramedics found him on his stomach.” I shake my head, rest my chin on my hand and mutter into my palm, “I don’t know, kind of like SIDS.”

Alyce’s face is hard. “She should’ve been over at the police if she wanted help - what was she doing up in the Lab in the first place?”

“What she was doing was her baby just died,” Margo says. “Any mother would do what she did. You try and hurt my babies, you just see what happens.”

“Did you know she’s from a big family,” Sylvie says. “I mean big, like, rich. I looked at her hospital chart? Her father’s Peter Billings—you know, like the Billings School at SU?”

“Well, we can’t have people just coming up here like that,” Alyce says. She crosses her arms on the table and leans forward on to her elbows. “I don’t care who they are. And I don’t care whose mother they are. We are professionals here. Lena is a professional. She has to be allowed to do her work.”

The other two women look at me silently; Margo lowers her eyes. Alyce taps the lunch table and asks, “How many SIDS cases came through here lately?”

I don’t quite look up at her; I turn my tuna fish sandwich to different angles.

“I’m not sure what the total SIDS cases were — usually it’s only once every few months. But I do know that in the past two months they’ve brought in two cribs,” Margo says. “Not counting that woman’s baby — the Cogan baby. I don’t think they ever brought in that crib.”

“What’s going on with those cribs?” Sylvie says.

“That’s all I know,” Margo says. “Just that there were two cribs,” she adds quietly.

“You know, I also noticed that the Cogans live in Lucius.” Sylvie holds her cup of tea in both hands. “Didn’t they have problems with tainted well water?”

“Bunch of hippie college kids started that rumour,” Alyce says.

Reprinted from Origin by Diana Abu-Jaber. Copyright (c) 2007 by Diana Abu-Jaber. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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