Sunday, October 16, 2016


This book is not for the faint of heart.  It is extremely challenging for its complex subject matter:  DNA, classical music patterns, and computer programming.  As a former software developer and infrequent pianist who took a genetics course in college, I have to say that only the computer stuff made sense, although it was a little farfetched.  I tried to understand the genetic research issues and their relationship to Bach’s Goldberg Variations, but I found myself mostly reading these passages without any real comprehension.  From a plot standpoint, though, this book reminded me of A.S. Byatt’s Possession, with its two love stories, one in the past and one in the present.  Stuart Ressler was a genetic scientist back in the 1950s and resurfaces in the 1980s, working graveyard shift as a data processing operator.  His young friend and coworker, Franklin Todd, who lacks only his dissertation on an obscure painter to obtain a Ph.D. in art history, becomes involved with our narrator, Jan O’Deigh, who is possibly wasting her mental faculties as a research librarian.  The mystery, if you want to call it that, is what drove Stuart to abandon his genetic research for such a mundane position.  Jan and Frank delve into Stuart’s past, and Stuart eventually shares his story of a love affair with a married coworker and his introduction to a piece of music that seemingly parallels the genetic code in some ways.  One intriguing twist in this book about cell reproduction is that neither of the women can bear children.  The author makes the point several times that evolution is all about a species’ reproduction rate being higher than its death rate, and yet he makes two of his main characters unable to reproduce.  My take on this is that he’s saying that, especially for humans, there’s a whole lot more to life than passing down one’s inheritable characteristics, and our knowledge of that fact is one of the many attributes that distinguish us from other life forms.  Jan, though, mentions a different distinguishing quality in this passage:  “the ability to step out of the food chain and, however momentarily, refuse to compete.”

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