In Coll’s debut novel, a brilliant mathematician’s childhood tragedies pave an ominous path for her work and marriage.
Cathryn Barrington-Weiss is only 8 years old when her father dies, her mother commits suicide and her brother goes missing. After a bout in a psychiatric hospital, young Cathryn goes to Germany to live with her new guardian, family friend Dr. Isaac Schlosser. The girl keeps quiet about the conversation she overheard between her father and a mysterious man right before he died, and a note her mother wrote explaining everything. Cathryn’s aptitude for math and science leads to her life’s work in quantitative psychologistics, a concept based on Asimov’s fictional science of psychohistory. While launching her project, affectionately named “little isaac,” Cathryn falls in love with the tenacious, controlling Carl von Wahrberg, an older man about to serve time for shady financial dealings. Her first and only night with him leads to twins and a new life together post-incarceration, in a town where people are not quick to forgive notorious Carl. A whirlwind of events leaves readers wondering what to anticipate. Coll is skilled in dropping enticements and dotting the tale with divergent characters such as Dr. Alison Burke, a fling from Carl’s past, and Therese, the nanny in love with Cathryn. But a multitude of unrealistic episodes impede the flow. Belief is hard won upon seeing the twins, who don’t meet their father until they’re 9 years old, fervently embrace him on sight. Readers may also find it difficult to trust Cathyrn’s unrelenting love for a man she spent only hours with 10 years ago. Coincidences—such as running into Carl a decade after their one night together the moment she arrives on his turf, ready to put her past to rest—contribute to a loss of confidence in an otherwise engaging narrative. Also, characters and plotlines disappear for long intervals: Little isaac, the brainchild Cathryn shrouds in security measures bordering on paranoia, is ignored for lengthy stretches, creating a disjointed effect in the storytelling. But a few surprises and a gratifying ending save face in this story of uncertain genre.
Psychodrama, romance and mystery mingle, but not cohesively.