An intelligent, explorative first novel about a middle-aged scientist, wife, and mother who copes with cancer . . . while groping back through her poor Brooklyn childhood for clues to the psychic weakness that might (why not?) cause a physical malignancy. Mona, 35, is married to Bob, a cardiologist, and is mother to two young boys. She's had the good life--a Central Park-side N.Y. apartment, enough money, and work that she loves as researcher/teacher in neurobiology. But now Mona knows she has a malignancy: lymphoma. And in the three-and-one-half years of treatment that follow, she goes through periods of terror, anger, hope, numb despair; the marriage suffers; Bob wonders why it had to happen to him. Yet, though treated conventionally with chemotherapy, Mona is diverted by both the ""science"" of probability and the notion that energy is really all mind, that we can shape events by our expectations. So, open to possibility, Mona also tries vitamin therapy, visualization tapes (in which a patient imagines his ""good"" cells are driving out ""bad""), even faith healing. And, most potently, she recalls her Brownsville past: her truck-driver father Sam, a Silver Star vet of W.W.II who'd seen ""too much killing,"" who had no use for Cod, who gambled himself into a car, a garage, and out of jail; mother Helen, who somehow coped; wise and loving Grandfather; best friend Hannah, whose gentle, religious father Isaac killed his nagging wife with a kitchen knife; and, always, questions of faith, of cause-and-effect. Finally, then, during a remission of her illness, Mona will take a near-fatal trek to the Utah road where Helen and Sam died in an accident--and she'll make her final connection to her past, to a father ""both a hero and wrong,"" to some ancient guilts. With the open-stairway ambiance of 1940s Brownsville tenements and some stinging speculations--about illness and health, matters of chance, and living outside categories: an intriguing, agile first novel.