A Los Angeles scientist hits upon a TOE (``Theory of Everything'') at the very moment her family needs her most—in a witty and sophisticated 90's-style drama by the poet and author of Dear Digby (1989). Eccentric, independent Esme Charbonneau has experienced the pleasures of intellectual success as a gifted child, a Harvard undergraduate, and the protÇgÇ of renowned chemist Kendall Quandahl. But since she's moved to L.A. to teach organic chemistry and splice genes at the male-dominated University of Greater California, Esme's satisfactions have steadily lessened. Having adjusted to the California culture, married a TV technical director who moonlights unsuccessfully as a stand-up comedian, and given birth to a daughter whose odd, metaphoric use of language causes doctors to suspect mental illness, Esme finds herself struggling in vain against what looks like mediocrity in her career, in her marriage, and as a mother. On top of this, Esme's abstract mind, which tends to dwell on such things as the chemical composition of lipstick when she's supposed to be interacting with another human being, has been distracted lately by hints of a connection uniting the concept of molecular ``handedness'' with the Big Bang—a sort of universal theory that she believes could make her famous. But the timing is all wrong: Esme's intellectual snobbery has caused a frat-like student to scheme against her; her insensitivity has caused her husband to move out; and her physical absence has left her beloved daughter prey to those who want to help but cannot understand her. As Esme reaches a climax in her theorizing, her personal life reaches a climax of disaster and life becomes a frantic juggling act—before she pins down her theory and discovers the tragic ways in which her daughter's strange behavior and her own forgotten past are intertwined. A sparkling, invigorating story, though the author's obvious preference for brilliant Esme over her doltish colleagues and stammering husband detracts from its effect.
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