Geneticist clones her own grandmother.
Lucy and Gray, lovers and professors at fictitious New Halcyon University in Massachusetts, share a rambling manse with five male student boarders, all members of a religious cult. The house features all manner of arcana, including a backyard labyrinth, an attic filled with the vintage wardrobe of Lucy’s grandmother Mary and a basement containing equipment that both Lucy and Ambrose, her late biologist father, have used for “projects” that have lately attracted unwanted attention from the conservative religious element on campus. Longing to reproduce, Lucy decides on a radical form of do-it-yourself in-vitro. Injecting DNA from a bloodstained apron found in Mary’s attic into an ovum harvested by Ambrose from Lucy’s deceased mother Lucinda, Lucy implants herself with the resulting zygote, which develops much faster than a conventional fetus, necessitating a late-night Caesarian performed by Lucy’s colleague, Megan, in the basement. After a few months gestation in the cellar “sinwomb,” Ambrose’s electric-powered synthetic uterine chamber, a new Mary is “born.” Due to her cell age at the time of cloning, Mary is 22 years old, with memories of the 1920s intact. The usual anachronistic follies ensue: Mary finds the language, dress and inflation of the 2000s unsettling, but is pleased to see that Prohibition is over and that she can still smoke Luckies. A helpful book, Everyday Life in the Twenty-first Century, by a mysterious time-traveler (or hoaxer), brings Mary up to date on everything from neocons to the genetic science that produced her. Gray, enamored of Mary, can’t prevent Lucy from cloning Mary’s husband Teddy, who died in 1944 at age 36. Before long, the local evangelist threatens Lucy with prosecution and murder. He settles for vague threats, leaving just enough time for Lucy to send her creations off toward Mary’s dream destination, Antarctica. A disillusioned Lucy will discover the full extent of her father’s prescient gene-wrangling.
The exposition is cumbersome, and the denouement devolves into slapstick, in DeAngelis’s uneven debut.