BookBrowse Reviews Intuition by Allegra Goodman

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by Allegra Goodman

Intuition by Allegra Goodman X
Intuition by Allegra Goodman
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2006, 352 pages
    Mar 2007, 448 pages

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An intricate mystery set in the high-stakes atmosphere of a prestigious research institute, by the author of The Family Markowitz and Kaaterskill Falls

From the book jacket: Sandy Glass, a charismatic publicity-seeking oncologist, and Marion Mendelssohn, a pure, exacting scientist, are co-directors 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.

Comment: In an interview in the Washington Post last year the interviewer commented that Goodman's first two novels were about the search for spirituality and asked if Intuition was about the search for a different kind of truth - scientific truth? To which she replied:

"The themes in this book resonate with themes that I've dealt with in previous work. I see similarities between the search for spiritual truth and the search for truth about the world that scientists embark on. The book is very much about faith and doubt. It's about religious people, except that their religion is science."

She set Intuition in the 1980s because it was the time period in which people started to get very alarmed about the specter of scientific fraud, and there was a great interest in scientific oversight. She started writing Intuition around 2002 but it took four years to complete so, serendipitously, it was published relatively soon after two major health scandals (the South Korean cloning scandal of late 2005, and the Vioxx heart scare of 2004) which added an additional degree of relevancy to her tale. However, she emphasizes that she does not consider herself an op-ed writer:

"I started this book four years ago, but writing about lying and dissembling turned out to be a fairly topical subject. I was interested in the struggle of scientists and creative people working under tremendous pressures of time and money. I have a huge amount of sympathy for those people. I believe 99.99 percent of scientists are honest and truthful -- we read the headlines about a very tiny minority -- but small groups of people under tremendous pressure and how that affects their relationships with each other are a great subject for me as a writer."

Other than one negative review, all media reviews found for Intuition positively glow with praise. The one negative voice was by fellow author Sue Halpern writing in The New York Times who felt that Intuition is "fuzzy" because it fails to make it clear whether Cliff, the novel's putative villain, is delusional, bad at his work or actually on to something. Halpern goes on to say that Intuition is full of querulous people whose emotional tics stand in for personality," and that the novel's messages are mixed to the point that Goodman's "moral compass seems to spin around, depolarized."

The consensus of the many other reviewers who pitched in about Intuition is that it is another quiet but powerful novel from Goodman, possibly her best to date, offering a highly contemporary and relevant inquiry into our society's problematic matrix of science, money, and politics. She is praised for creating a story that is subtle, vivid, incisive and funny and for illuminating the inner lives of each of her characters without passing judgment on anyone, and without any feeling of meanness or self-righteousness.

Browse the full range of reviewer opinion and an excerpt from Intuition at BookBrowse, where you'll also find excerpts and reviews of Goodman's two earlier novels.

This review is from the April 5, 2007 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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