A plain, unmarried New York City woman’s affections vacillate between the poles of hard science and pop culture—in the first fiction from a translator daughter of John McPhee.
Narrator Marie Brown, 39, is a semiambitious tabloid obit writer obsessed with B-movie diva Nora Mars. When Mars slips into a coma, Marie jumps on the story, beginning her investigation with the star’s third ex-husband, Rex. She develops a crush on this lounge lizard, and a professional dilemma ensues: Go for the lover or the story? Marie is also a lapsed graduate student whose lingering passion for the philosophy of science interferes with her work. Boning up on relativity, physics, and quantum theory at the library, she meets Marco Trentadue, a pajama-wearing bibliophile with informed ideas on subjects dear to Marie’s mind. Their discussions of scientific theory shed light on (and provide analogies for) Marie’s ongoing investigation, which takes her into some dark and mysterious places in Nora Mars’s past. Nora’s estranged sister, Maud, offers insights that conflict significantly with Rex’s version of events. The story caroms between investigative leads and library chats that resonate in Marie’s head. Marco, we learn, is a WIMP (a “weakly interacting massive particle”), while Rex is a MACHO (a “massive compact halo object”). The subjectivity of biographical “truth” is linked to the theory of relativity. Interwoven into each section of Marie’s investigation are lines from movies—some real, some imagined—invoking Nora’s film- and “real-life” wit. These dialogue snippets often provide clever counterpoint to the scientific aphorisms that form the chapters’ epigraphs, but the use of science to comment on romance is a bright idea undermined by the author’s regrettable tendency toward cuteness.
Likable and harmless: science Nora-Ephronized into generic romance.