A debut novel by a scientist that makes the lab feel like a real place, not clueless stage dressing.
Emily Apell, a bioinformatician fresh out of graduate school, has taken a job in a neuroscience lab at a famous research university in Manhattan overlooking the East River. She’s hoping to discover a “pathfinder gene” that guides neurons to their targets in the olfactory bulb, connecting the brain to the input it needs to create the sensation of smell. (Before writing her novel, Rothman herself was a postdoc and research associate studying the neurobiology of olfaction at Rockefeller University.) Emily’s boss likes to pit his postdocs and researchers against one another while forcing them to collaborate. She and a co-worker find themselves drawn together in a confusion of attraction and rivalry that feels like fate. In this cutthroat world of elite neuroscience, Emily must choose between work and love. But why? New York’s a big place. Why not find a nice, calm web developer or language arts teacher or dentist who will support her passionate commitment to her career instead of sabotaging it? Or, better yet, a good therapist who can help her let go of her notion that she’s incapable of love and recognize assholes when she meets them? Sadly, Rothman doesn’t provide Emily with anything so sensible. What she does provide are a vivid sense of place and a well-paced, intelligently constructed story. And if readers may sometimes feel like shaking a little sense into her characters, well, isn’t that also true of many of the great romantics of literature (looking at you, Heathcliff and Juliet) as well as—face it—a fair number of one’s own friends?
The pleasure of this novel lies in Rothman’s sincere, straightforward, unpretentious prose wracked with the loneliness of young love.