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Intuition
by Allegra Goodman

Published: 2006-02-28
Hardcover : 352 pages
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Hailed as “a writer of uncommon clarity” by the New Yorker, National Book Award finalist Allegra Goodman has dazzled readers with her acclaimed works of fiction, including such beloved bestsellers as The Family Markowitz and Kaaterskill Falls. Now she returns with a bracing new ...
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Introduction

Hailed as “a writer of uncommon clarity” by the New Yorker, National Book Award finalist Allegra Goodman has dazzled readers with her acclaimed works of fiction, including such beloved bestsellers as The Family Markowitz and Kaaterskill Falls. Now she returns with a bracing new novel, at once an intricate mystery and a rich human drama set in the high-stakes atmosphere of a prestigious research institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Sandy Glass, a charismatic publicity-seeking oncologist, and Marion Mendelssohn, a pure, exacting scientist, are codirectors of a lab at the Philpott Institute dedicated to cancer research and desperately in need of a grant. Both mentors and supervisors of their young postdoctoral protégés, Glass and Mendelssohn demand dedication and obedience in a competitive environment where funding is scarce and results elusive. So when the experiments of Cliff Bannaker, a young postdoc in a rut, begin to work, the entire lab becomes giddy with newfound expectations. But Cliff’s rigorous colleague–and girlfriend–Robin Decker suspects the unthinkable: that his findings are fraudulent. As Robin makes her private doubts public and Cliff maintains his innocence, a life-changing controversy engulfs the lab and everyone in it.

With extraordinary insight, Allegra Goodman brilliantly explores the intricate mixture of workplace intrigue, scientific ardor, and the moral consequences of a rush to judgment. She has written an unforgettable novel.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.

Excerpt

1


All day the snow had been falling. Snow muffled every store and church; drifts erased streets and sidewalks. The punks at the new Harvard Square T stop had tramped off, bright as winter cardinals with their purple tufted hair and orange Mohawks. The sober Vietnam vet on Mass Ave had retreated to Au Bon Pain for coffee. Harvard Yard was quiet with snow. The undergraduates camping there for Harvard's divestment from South Africa had packed up their cardboard boxes, tents, and sleeping bags and begun building snow people. Cambridge schools were closed, but the Philpott Institute was open as usual. In the Mendelssohn-Glass lab, four postdocs and a couple of lab techs were working. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

Hailed as "a writer of uncommon clarity" by the New Yorker, National Book Award finalist Allegra Goodman has for years delighted reading groups with her fiction, including such beloved bestsellers as The Family Markowitz and Kaaterskill Falls. Set in the high-stakes atmosphere of a prestigious research institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Intuition combines the vivid character portrayals and deeply human situations that have won Goodman high acclaim, and elements of a mystery add to the intrigue of this alluring drama.

Sandy Glass, a charismatic publicity-seeking oncologist, and Marion Mendelssohn, a pure, exacting scientist, are codirectors of a lab dedicated to cancer research but desperately in need of grants. When a key to the cure seems to have been discovered by Cliff Bannaker, their young postdoc protégé, the entire lab becomes giddy with newfound expectations. But Cliff's rigorous colleague (and girlfriend) Robin Decker suspects the unthinkable: that his findings are fraudulent. As Robin makes her private doubts public and Cliff maintains his innocence, a life-changing controversy engulfs the lab and everyone in it. Illuminating the motivations and inner lives of each player in the controversy, Goodman explores the elusive quests that haunt us all.

The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Allegra Goodman's Intuition. We hope they will enrich your experience of this dazzling novel.
Reader's Guide

1. The word "intuition" means something different to each reader: it has positive and negative connotations. Is it an apt title? A great title? What role does intuition play in the novel and which characters display it? How?
2. Goodman's novel is set in the mid-1980s, and is rich with details that make it of that time. What did this backdrop add to the story? What might have changed if the action had been contemporary?
3. Are there any parallels between love and science as both play out in Intuition? What do Robin and Cliff discover about the experiment of their relationship as it unravels in Part III of the novel?
4. Near the end of Chapter Eight, Part IV, Goodman writes: "Robin's case against Cliff might as well have been a case against the status quo, an argument against the natural bumps and jolts of the creative process." What do you think of this statement, both as it relates to the action of the novel and as a theme? What is "the status quo" in a creative process? What influence did a place like the Philpott have on this process? Is there a place for creativity in empirical research?
5. Sandy is a charismatic character. Discuss your reaction to him in various modes: as a care provider with his patients; as a parent and spouse; as the public face of the Philpott. Are there conflicts? Is he likeable? Is he moral? What does your intuition tell you about his fate? Discuss his penchant for “useful” careers–what do you see for his children?
6. Sandy and Marion are "de facto" parents at the Philpott. How does their professional relationship mirror their personal lives (or not)?
7. Given the information the novel relates, were the media or ORIS capable of determining the truth about R-7? Why? What did you think?
8. Kate gives Cliff a novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. How and why is this revelatory and appropriate? What does it tell you about Kate as much as it does about Cliff?
9. Goodman's novels, including the National Book Award-nominated Kaaterskill Falls, bring readers into otherwise closed worlds. What makes this work for you? Did you feel the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the research world, and the subsequent "celebrity" of the teams and how it changed their lives? How is this achieved by Ms. Goodman?
10. What does Marion discover she needs? Where will it come from? Who will provide it? Do you feel she's been betrayed? Why or why not?
11. What will the investigation prove? What did Cliff do? What did Robin achieve?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

A Note from Allegra Goodman to BookMovement members:

Writing “Intuition”

Probably the most famous advice for writers is: “Write what you know.” If a writer writes what she knows then her work will look and feel authentic. As a young writer I observed carefully and listened closely to the people around me. drew upon my own experience and my imagination to write

about three generations of a Jewish family in “The Family Markowitz” and a cloistered community of orthodox Jews in “Kaaterskill Falls.” I used my memories of growing up in Honolulu to color the scenes of “Paradise Park.”

But personal experience is only a point of departure for a novelist. After all, if writers only write what they know, then ultimately, they will only be writing about themselves. I've always been more interested in writing about other people than my own life. The world is so complex and interesting, and half the fun of writing fiction is exploring paths I have not taken.

I began “Intuition” as I begin all my novels with an idea about character. I thought of writing about a couple where one begins to understand that the other is dishonest—cheating, but not in the mundane romantic sense, cheating in his work. As I thought about this couple I envisioned them as scientists and I began to see a woman accusing her boyfriend of scientific fraud.

I live in Cambridge, Mass, a college town full of laboratories, at Harvard and MIT and biotech companies like Novartis and at private Institutes. I had my young couple, Cliff and Robin, and I invented a private research Institute for them to work, and a laboratory where they toiled away and, most interestingly, mentors for them, co-directors of their lab who have their own professional and work relationship. Now I had a second couple, Sandy Glass and Marion Mendelssohn. From a simple idea and two characters, I developed a work family and an institution and a scientific community. I visited real laboratories in Cambridge and watched scientists at work. I drew pictures of the lab mice I saw and took notes in a spiral notebook. I was gathering detail and texture, sounds and smells that I could draw upon as I wrote. I was learning about the work of scientists so that when I wrote I could write about what I knew.

Writing “Intuition” I extended myself, I entered new territory. The novel is about many of the same themes I've treated in my other books. The book is about character; it is about ritual; it is about generational conflict; it is about family; it is about power. But this book is also about science and the quest for truth. “Intuition” is a departure for me, and it is also a natural extension of my interests, the product of my own research and continuing education. Writing what you know turns out to be more interesting advice than one might think!

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  "A good science mystery"by lindaqp (see profile) 02/21/07

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