A luminous and insightful novel that considers the moral complexities of scientific discovery and the sustaining nature of love. A young researcher at MIT, Jane Weiss is obsessed with finding the genetic marker for Valentine’s Disease, a neurodegenerative disorder. Her pursuit is deeply personal—Valentine’s killed her mother, and she and her freewheeling sister, Laurel, could be genetic carriers; each has a fifty percent chance of developing the disease. Having seen firsthand the devastating effect Valentine’s had on her parents’ marriage, Jane is terrified she might become a burden on whomever she falls in love with and so steers clear of romantic entanglement. Then, the summer before her father’s second wedding, Jane falls hard for her future stepbrother, Willie. But Willie’s father also died from Valentine’s, raising the odds that their love will end in tragedy.
When Willie bolts at a crucial moment in their relationship, Jane becomes obsessed with finding the genetic marker to the disease that threatens both their families. But if she succeeds in making history, will she and her sister have the courage to face the truth this newfound knowledge could hold for their lives? A Perfect Life is a novel of scientific and self discovery, about learning how to embrace life and love, no matter what may come. Eileen Pollack conjures a thought-provoking, emotionally resonant story of one woman’s brilliance and bravery as she confronts her deepest fears and desires—and comes to accept the inevitable and the unexpected.
“A PERFECT LIFE is novel about nothing short of what it means to live and love in this world. Out the most basic building blocks of the universe, Pollack–with incredible wisdom, emotional subtlety, and a scientist’s unflinching eye combined with a lover’s determined passion–has written not only an important book, but a wildly absorbing one. There’s nothing more to be asked of a novel than what’s delivered here: suspense, desire, a glimpse into a world few ever see–and, because of this writer’s gifts, the opportunity to live in it for a while, to be a part of history-in-the-making in that place and time, and to experience and understand all of its implications. A PERFECT LIFE offers that rare gift of the best literature. The reader looks up after the last sentence with a new appreciation for and understanding of the world in which she’s living.” –Laura Kasischke, author of The Life Before Her Eyes
THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE ROOM: WHY SCIENCE IS STILL A BOY’S CLUB (2015)
Pollack (Creative Writing/Univ. of Michigan; Breaking and Entering, 2012, etc.) reveals why, after working so hard to become a physicist, she decided against enrolling in a graduate program, opting instead for a career as a writer. In part, she explains, her decision was a belated response to then–Harvard president Lawrence Summers’ suggestion, in 2005, that genetic difference might explain why few women attained tenured faculty positions in hard science. Pollack first studied current statistics in order to determine how things have changed since then. To her surprise, she found out that today, women still earn only one-fifth the number of doctorates in physics. A “nerdy” aptitude for science or math, writes the author, “strikes most cruelly at adolescent girls.” This was the case for her and is still true today. Being the smartest girl in the class (like the author was during her adolescence) is often a recipe for social failure. Through high school and then at Yale, Pollack faced the distressing reality that being smarter than the guys was an automatic romantic turnoff. In her case, the fact that she had attended public schools put her at further social and academic disadvantage at Yale, where most students had attended elite private schools. Moreover, she was not included in the informal study sessions held by male students. She also experienced subtle discrimination from some faculty members. Her grim determination to succeed academically meant that she spent long hours alone trying to master the difficult course work. She achieved academic success but at a terrible psychological cost, as she suffered from physical ticks, bulimia, and depression. Throughout this important book, Pollack provides compelling answers to Summers’ ill-considered remarks.
Hard-hitting, difficult to read, and impossible to put down.” — Kirkus Reviews
Rights: Beacon Press, North American; Isae, Korea
Longtime professor and former director of the Helen Zell MFA Program at the University of Michigan, Eileen Pollack holds a BS in physics from Yale and an MFA in Fiction from the Iowa Writers Workshop. She has received fellowships from the NEA Michener foundation and Rona Jaffe Foundation. Her work was included in THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES 2007 edited by Stephen King and THE BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS 2013 edited by Cheryl Strayed. She is the award-winning author of a story collection, a novel, and a work of creative non-fiction, all published by small presses. Visit her at www.eileenpollack.com