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Summary and book reviews of Intuition by Allegra Goodman

Intuition

by Allegra Goodman

Intuition
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2006, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2007, 448 pages

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Book Summary

The Philpott Institute is dedicated to cancer research and desperately in need of a grant. So when the experiments begin to work, the entire lab becomes giddy with newfound expectations. But Cliff’s girlfriend suspects the unthinkable: that his findings are fraudulent. As the doubts become public the controversy engulfs the lab and everyone in it.

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.

1

All day the snow had been falling. Snow muffled every store and church; drifts erased streets and sidewalks. The punks at the new Harvard Square T stop had tramped off, bright as winter cardinals with their purple tufted hair and orange Mohawks. The sober Vietnam vet on Mass Ave had retreated to Au Bon Pain for coffee. Harvard Yard was quiet with snow. The undergraduates camping there for Harvard's divestment from South Africa had packed up their cardboard boxes, tents, and sleeping bags and begun building snow people. Cambridge schools were closed, but the Philpott Institute was open as usual. In the Mendelssohn-Glass lab, four postdocs and a couple of lab techs were working.

Two to a bench, like cooks crammed into a restaurant kitchen, the postdocs were extracting DNA in solution, examining cells, washing cells with chemicals, bursting cells open, changing cells forever by inserting new genetic material. They were operating sinks with foot pedals, measuring and moving ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The word "intuition" means something different to each reader: it has positive and negative connotations. Is it an apt title? A great title? What role does intuition play in the novel and which characters display it? How?

  2. Goodman's novel is set in the mid-1980s, and is rich with details that make it of that time. What did this backdrop add to the story? What might have changed if the action had been contemporary?

  3. Are there any parallels between love and science as both play out in Intuition? What do Robin and Cliff discover about the experiment of their relationship as it unravels in Part III of the novel?

  4. Near the end of Chapter Eight, Part IV, Goodman writes: "Robin's case against Cliff might as well have been a case ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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In an interview about Intuition, 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 Goodman 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."   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews

The New York Times - Sue Halpern

It has been Goodman's particular talent to create quirky, poignant characters and put them in deeply affecting relationships, and these relationships carry her ovels. "Intuition," by contrast, is full of querulous people whose emotional tics stand in for personality. Each is simply playing a role — Mendelssohn, the abstracted researcher; Glass, the mildly mendacious striver; Cliff, the shambling but handsome ninny; Robin, the harridan.

The San Francisco Chronicle - Christine Thomas

Goodman's talent as a storyteller and social observer is undeniable, and she captures group interaction with great scenes of crowded dinner tables, complete with energy and rapid-fire conversation. There is likewise no doubt about her immaculate attention to detail, as just about every unasked question about elements of character and plot is addressed. Sometimes this thoroughness delays the action but is made up for by long explanations culminating in well-placed and poignant similes.

Entertainment Weekly - Jennifer Reese

[W]hile you can get thundering courtroom action from John Grisham and Law & Order reruns, what you won't often find is such a delicate analysis of how an ethics scandal filters through the sensibility of brilliant and brilliantly realized characters. It's a tricky operation that Goodman performs with the precision of a scientist, and the flair of an artist at the top of her game.

The New Yorker

The omniscient narrative nimbly shifts perspective among a small number of complex characters, to produce a Rashomon-like inquiry into truth and motive.

The Boston Globe - Bruce Allen

[T]here's no meanness or self-righteousness in a single sentence of this enthralling novel. Goodman's great gift is her ability to sense and dramatize the goodness -- sometimes the nobility -- in characters lesser writers might merely satirize. Her people interest her because they're as human as they are fallible and infuriating. They should interest us equally. There's nobody else like her writing today. This reader's intuition tells him so.

Publishers Weekly

Powerful....[An] 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....A truly humanist novel from the supposedly antiseptic halls of science.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

*Starred Review* Goodman not only tells a psychologically dazzling and covertly archetypal story but also conducts a timely inquiry into our society's problematic matrix of science, money, and politics.


Author Blurb Jane Hamilton, author of The Map of The World and The Book of Ruth
What a feat, to pull off a large story of science and politics in the here and now, with beautifully drawn and compelling characters, with all the large and small details of their lives. What a gift not to pass judgement on any of them, to love each character equally and fairly. The ending is perfection.

Author Blurb Ha-Jin, National Book Award winning author of Waiting and War Trash
This brilliant novel shows a world of labs and researchers which seems unfamiliar to some of us, yet it's a world intimately relevant to our existence - our fallibility and vulnerability. Page by page the story shimmers with insights into the subtlety and complexity of human psychology and relationships. Allegra Goodman writes like a master.

Reader Reviews

oroboros

Science
It's not so much that I liked the characters in this book or even that I cared about them, but that they were fascinating. I especially liked Jacob, the former child prodigy, who changed his focus from his own success to his wife's. Everyone just ...   Read More

Dorothy

do not buy this book
I read the great reviews when I got the book and I do not know why people were raving about this book. This book was boring, plain and simple. I actually was not interested in finishing it because I did not care about these characters.

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Beyond the Book

Harvard-educated Allegra Goodman started her writing career with Total Immersion, a collection of short stories published in 1989; a second volume of short stories, The Family Markowitz, followed in 1996. Her first novel, Kaaterskill Falls, was published in 1998 (and was one of the first books to be recommended at BookBrowse). Paradise Park was published in 2001 and Intuition in 2006. She lives in Cambridge, Massachussets, the setting for Intuition.

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