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 by Diana Abu-Jaber
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2007, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2008, 384 pages

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“One of my babies is involved?” Margo draws herself up. “I wouldn’t care! Mortgage the house, go rob a bank. Who cares? I’d want to know that I’d done everything in my earthly powers.”

“I think that’s why she came looking for Lena,” Alyce says evenly.

“Maybe I’d hire a hit man,” Margo says. But then she sighs and glances at me.

I look down. I don’t want to eat this tuna, even though I just made it myself this morning; I put it back on the wax paper wrapping and fold it up. I can feel Margo looking at me, her irises so dark they blend into her pupils. “Lena?” I slide the sandwich back in the paper bag. “Lena?” Her voice is tenuous. “Do you, you know, sense anything on this one?”

I shake my head. I can see the mother in her face. I see her waiting in there like an animal in a cave. I look down and say, “No, nothing in particular.” Sometimes the crime circumstances and motives come to me so clearly that I’ll feel shaken for days afterwards. I’ll see the crust of blood on an embroidered handkerchief and the motives come to me out of nowhere: she wanted to kill her husband for a long, long time. Or: he was always afraid of the other children at school. Or: she couldn’t take the noise in that house one second more.

Once, I collected a wilted page of notebook paper from a crime scene, that turned out to have been dampened with tears, and I saw it: the man writing that page knew that his killer was coming.

But I smile at Margo and say, “Just doesn’t seem that unusual.”

“No, I didn’t think so,” she says.

Forensics takes a straightforward approach: it leans scientific principles up against the pursuit of the law. One set of rules crosshatches the other. You gaze at the hair and skin fibers scraped from under a victim’s nails: first under a hand lens, then the microscope, waiting for the legal-scientific thing called “evidence” to appear. The hope is, of course, that the harder and closer and longer you look, the more you see. But sometimes the thing you must do is lean back, relax, close your eyes. You can’t rush.

I watch Margo settle into the chair. Her unconscious hand taps the purse where she keeps her children’s photographs. Sometimes in the Lab, we’ll say things just to soothe each other. Margo has decided, for now, to believe me. She knows full well about the way evidence can look when you stand in one light, then change utterly when you stand in another. She nods again and squeezes my hand. “I’m paranoid,” she says weakly.

“What do you expect?” Alyce brandishes one hand as if we were at the gates of hell. “Working here?”

“The worst humanity has to offer, on a daily basis,” Sylvie says. “It’s like when medical students start to think they’re getting all the diseases they’re studying.”

Alyce says, “We think we’re gonna get all the crimes.”

Margo is smiling but she doesn’t stop gazing at me, either. My eyes feel hot, x-rayed.

The women look at each other, then laugh as if startled, the sound rippling around me, silvery little waves at the base of a rock, swirling with anxiety.

The detectives think the Lab techs are a little creepy—with our jokes and our attitude. But the street police, the infantry, know—you’ve got to hang on to a sliver of humor. We’re piece-workers, trained on our segment of the mystery. Which is just how I like it—working in a mute space all my own.

Margo says, very casually, “It’s a good thing you don’t have any of your own, Lena. Really girl, you are so so lucky.”

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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