In precise and lyrical prose, newcomer Gross spins this gorgeously melancholic tale of two scientists from opposite ends of the globe whose paths eventually cross.
Still confused about her marine biologist brother's death by drowning—was it accident or suicide?—American Annabel Mendelssohn arrives in a remote region of Australia to observe fruit bats as part of a graduate program in field studies. Ambitious and eccentric, Annabel feels alienated from the other students, especially her roommate, Sabrina, a catty blond who fills their room with "toxic-waste face paint . . . curlers and thong underwear," and seems more interested in bagging Lars, the program's pretty boy, than studying. Despite her serious attitude toward work, Annabel, though, finds herself attracted to John Goode, the 50-ish professor overseeing her project. A reckless genius with mismatched eyes (one brown, one blue), Professor Goode has recently separated from his wife of many years in a postlude to his first affair. Their son, Leon, reacts with rage. Depressed and disillusioned with hard science—his father's terrain—Leon drops out of graduate school at Harvard, takes a job as an educator at the Boston Museum of Science, and obsesses over his shapely co-worker Ursula. When Professor Goode disappears without a trace, Leon flies home and sets off in search of his father. That journey leads him to Annabel, who has been living alone in the rainforest watching her bats. Still feeling an intimate connection to John Goode, she leaves her research to accompany Leon on his quest. The two annoy each other at first, then fall in love. Meanwhile, Gross has an amazing ability to convey the subtlest emotional shifts; her novel thrums with psychological intensity, and there's no shortage of acerbic wit. In Annabel, she's created a quirky character with the staying power of L.M. Montgomery's Anne Shirley.
Stunning. A remarkable debut.