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Mary Modern

Mary Modern

4.3 6
by Camille DeAngelis

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Like the New York Times bestseller The Time Traveler's Wife, this compelling debut novel weaves an old-fashioned love story with modern science—and leaves us wanting more.

Lucy Morrigan, a young genetic researcher, lives with her boyfriend, Gray, in her crumbling family mansion. Surrounded by four generations of clothes, photographs,


Like the New York Times bestseller The Time Traveler's Wife, this compelling debut novel weaves an old-fashioned love story with modern science—and leaves us wanting more.

Lucy Morrigan, a young genetic researcher, lives with her boyfriend, Gray, in her crumbling family mansion. Surrounded by four generations of clothes, photographs, furniture, and other remnants of past lives, they are strangely out of touch with the modern world— except in the basement, where Lucy works in the hightech lab she inherited from her father. Frustrated by her unsuccessful attempts to win tenure and bear a child, she takes drastic measures to achieve both: She uses a bloodstained scrap of apron found in the attic to successfully clone her grandmother.

Naturally, Lucy is hoping for a baby. Instead, she brings to life 22-year-old Mary. Alive in a home that is no longer her own, amid reminders of a life she has lived but doesn’t remember, Mary is trapped in the strangest sort of déjà vu, and Lucy must face the truth about love, longing, and the ties that bind.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

This imaginative near-future, genre-bending debut novel borrows its premise from the iconic work of a less modern Mary—Mary Shelley. After discovering she's infertile, 28-year-old biogenetics researcher Lucy Morrigan concocts in her secret basement laboratory a fetal cocktail using her grandmother's DNA (from a blood-spotted apron found in the attic). Within three months, Lucy's dangerously huge with the clone of grandmother Mary, and her boss and friend, Megan (who is not an ob-gyn but was once married to one) performs a C-section. They place the clone in a mechanical womb in Lucy's basement, and in six months, an indignant 22-year-old version of Lucy's grandmother emerges. Mary's last memories are of 1929, but she adjusts to modern life quickly. She's bright, vivacious and flirtatious, and is portrayed with significantly more empathy and detail than any of the other characters. Despite an obvious and mutual attraction to Lucy's boyfriend, Mary asks Lucy to clone her husband, Teddy. But Mary isn't the only one looking for Lucy's help—a deranged preacher threatens to expose her unless she clones Jesus. DeAngelis combines a neogothic exploration of a moral-ethical morass with a quirky clone love story; the result is sometimes unwieldy but frequently titillating. (July)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Geneticist clones her own grandmother. Lucy and Gray, lovers and professors at fictitious New Halcyon University in Massachusetts, share a rambling manse with five male student boarders, all members of a religious cult. The house features all manner of arcana, including a backyard labyrinth, an attic filled with the vintage wardrobe of Lucy's grandmother Mary and a basement containing equipment that both Lucy and Ambrose, her late biologist father, have used for "projects" that have lately attracted unwanted attention from the conservative religious element on campus. Longing to reproduce, Lucy decides on a radical form of do-it-yourself in-vitro. Injecting DNA from a bloodstained apron found in Mary's attic into an ovum harvested by Ambrose from Lucy's deceased mother Lucinda, Lucy implants herself with the resulting zygote, which develops much faster than a conventional fetus, necessitating a late-night Caesarian performed by Lucy's colleague, Megan, in the basement. After a few months gestation in the cellar "sinwomb," Ambrose's electric-powered synthetic uterine chamber, a new Mary is "born." Due to her cell age at the time of cloning, Mary is 22 years old, with memories of the 1920s intact. The usual anachronistic follies ensue: Mary finds the language, dress and inflation of the 2000s unsettling, but is pleased to see that Prohibition is over and that she can still smoke Luckies. A helpful book, Everyday Life in the Twenty-first Century, by a mysterious time-traveler (or hoaxer), brings Mary up to date on everything from neocons to the genetic science that produced her. Gray, enamored of Mary, can't prevent Lucy from cloning Mary's husband Teddy, who died in 1944 at age 36. Beforelong, the local evangelist threatens Lucy with prosecution and murder. He settles for vague threats, leaving just enough time for Lucy to send her creations off toward Mary's dream destination, Antarctica. A disillusioned Lucy will discover the full extent of her father's prescient gene-wrangling. The exposition is cumbersome, and the denouement devolves into slapstick, in DeAngelis's uneven debut. Agent: Kate Garrick/DeFiore & Company
The Heard Word
Highbridge Audio’s production of Mary Modern is stellar and should not be missed.- The Heard Word

Product Details

Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.59(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.36(d)

Read an Excerpt

friday, 11 november 2005 ~ 8:28 p.m.

25 University Avenue ~ The Basement

Bonobos are the only other primates who do it face to face. Females dominate bonobo society and copulation is diplomacy in its ideal form. Promiscuity means peace.

But that's bonobos. Is it a mistake to invite a man to one's house on the first date?

"Oh, well," Lucy says aloud, smiling vaguely as she raises her wrist to her nose for another sniff of her new perfume. A DNA sequence, collected last summer from the wing of a Painted Lady, scrolls down her computer screen at a dizzying speed.

Too late now: the doorbell's ringing. She reaches for her inhaler, gives it a shake, and takes a puff on her way up the stairs, stashing it in the mail table drawer on her way to the door.

8:32 p.m.

The Front Walk

Long before his chance encounter with its owner in the 600 section of the university library, Gray knew the Queen Anne at 25 University Avenue as the house that changes colors. The siding is a peculiar shade of yellow that turns a dusty sap-green under the light of the streetlamp. The house is yellow in the morning on his way to campus and green on his walk home. The old carriage house, with its padlocked doors and grimy octagonal windows, gives him the willies no matter the hour.

As he comes up the front walk for the first time, he sees that the house is in a worse state of repair than he had discerned from the curb. Not shabby, exactly--not yet--but the front yard has the disconsolate air of a home that no longer merits a write-up in Better Homes and Gardens. There's a widow's walk along the western side he'd never noticed before, a curious feature considering the sea is a full hour's drive away.

The porch lamp is on, but there's no light coming through the fanlight above the door. Stained-glass panels flank the doorway, but he can barely make out their design: angels, he supposes. Three sets of wings apiece. Seraphim?

He rings the bell three times before she answers it, and in the meantime he can hear the chime echoing through the hall. "Sorry," she says, shivering at the gust of cold air that accompanies his entrance. "I was in the basement." He hands her the bottle of Cusumano and Lucy says, "How thoughtful--I love Sicilian wine--thanks ever so much."

Strung on a delicate silver chain, a diamond of fair size glitters in the hollow of her throat, and the candle on the hall table softens the sharp edges of her profile. She'd seemed somewhat plain under the harsh fluorescent lights at the library, but in her own home, slipped into something made of satin and three times as old as she is, Lucy is altogether lovely. He watches the gooseflesh fade from her arms as she hangs his coat in a closet to the right of the entryway. An ancient deerstalker cap hangs on the door hook.

The house appears cavernous on the inside, probably because most of the lights are turned off. A tableau of family portraits, most of them in black and white, eyes him from high on the foyer walls, and a genealogical tree in careful calligraphy hangs above the hall table. Through an open door to his left he hears Billie Holiday singing "There Is No Greater Love."

Every time she leaves a room she flicks a switch. "We're big on conservation in this house," she tells him.

Other photographs line an arched hallway into the kitchen: wedding parties and engagement portraits, mostly; a few family-reunion shots with three or four dozen people crowded into the frame; and a smattering of baby pictures, all of them too old to be hers.

She flips on the kitchen light and dons a quilted baking mitt. A ceramic salad bowl on the granite countertop brims with spinach and crumbled feta cheese. The oven speaks in a jolly bass: "Lucy-bear, I believe the cookies are ready." He laughs.

"That's my dad." She opens the oven door and examines a tray of chicken fillets (cooked in lemon and rosemary, by the smell of it).

"That oven must be state-of-the-art."

"Because it talks?" She laughs. "Nah, my dad was just handy that way. He added an audio chip to the timer." The chicken sizzles gorgeously as she pulls the tray out of the oven and assembles the side dishes on the dumbwaiter. "He'd let me bake on my own when I was small, but then I'd always end up engrossed in a book and burn everything."

"That's why I don't cook."

"Not at all?"

"Well, some," he says, "but let's just say Julia Child would be horrified."

She looks at him, stricken. "You aren't a vegetarian, are you?" He shakes his head. "Oh, good," she says. "I suppose I should have asked."

He picks up the salad bowl and follows her through a swinging door into the dining room, then gasps at what he finds: a great stone fireplace, wide as an altar; a cathedral ceiling; a trio of seven-foot stained-glass windows--eating in here will feel like going to church. Two places have been set at the end of a long mahogany table, in itself the length of a good-sized house. Through speakers mounted on the wall above a large china cabinet comes the last line of the Billie Holiday song. Along the sideboard there is a row of crystal decanters, each filled with a fluorescent liquid. Incredulous, he sets the bowl down and approaches the bar. "Is that . . . absinthe?"

"I put food coloring in the gin. It was too old to drink, anyway."

"I take it you don't drink much." He runs his hand over an inscription carved in the stone mantelpiece: MEMENTO MORI, SED COMMORABOR.

"Clever," he murmurs.

"My great-great-grandfather chose it. He built the house," she says as she lifts the door on the dumbwaiter and sets a bowl of garlic mashed potatoes on the table.

He stands behind his chair with his hands in the pockets of his corduroy pants. "This is a beautiful dinner. I didn't expect you to go to so much trouble."

Smiling, she uncorks the wine in one swift motion and fills two long-stemmed glasses the size of soup bowls. "It wasn't any trouble. Sit, won't you?"

On the wall opposite the windows is another row of black-and-white photographs. At first glance they seem chosen for artistic rather than sentimental value: street musicians, farmers' markets, and barefoot children picking dandelions on a grassy hill. "My grandmother took those," she says.

As he settles into his chair, Gray recalls he had delivered a lecture on the Roman household gods just that afternoon. Lare-s, the spirits of the dearly departed. Each family member was protected by the spirit of a certain ancestor, embodied in an ivory figurine kept on the household shrine. If you needed to pray, you'd hold your own protector in the palm of your hand.

"You haven't taken a bite," Lucy says after a minute. "What are you thinking of?"

Something older than Billie Holiday is playing now, a set of honey-sweet voices on a scratchy recording. "Do you have some sort of central sound system?"

"My father installed it. Why are you smiling like that?"

"I was just wondering what you do if someone in another room wants to listen to different music."

She shrugs. "There are never enough people around to disagree." He watches her eat, the light from the chandelier flashing off the ornate cutlery between her nimble fingers. There is a wide crescent moon at the base of each thumbnail. At the curve of her neckline two rust-colored pinpricks mar the shoulder seam, from an old safety pin left in the fabric too long. Lucy goes shopping in her own attic: tweed suits (of which she only ever wears the jacket or the skirt), silk dressing gowns, and lace-up boots (routinely polished but rarely worn). She will tell him she descends from a long line of pack rats.

Lucy catches him eyeing the white-gold wedding band she wears on her left ring finger. "It was my mother's." She pauses. "I hope you aren't a Freudian."

9:56 p.m.

The Front Hall

Lucy has five boarders, male graduate students with acute vitamin D deficiencies and a shared predilection for heavy black clothing. They nod in tacit greeting as they pass him in the corridor, their long, pallid faces bobbing up and down in the semidarkness (and this produces an uncannily disembodied effect).

"Come on," she says, as the boarders disappear into the kitchen. The last of them turns in the doorway, briefly, eyeing Gray with curiosity. "We'll light a fire in the study."

"I'd like to have another look at your photographs," Gray says. Turning on the hall lamp with his free hand, he takes another sip of wine. After peering in at a tiny diptych curio of Joseph and Mary Anne Dearthing ("great-great," Lucy murmurs, her cheeks glowing with pleasure), he points to a picture of a dark-haired suffragist in Edwardian dress, her ballot poised above the slot. "This is amazing."

"My great-grandmother was the first woman in New Halcyon to cast a vote," Lucy says, "and she died a few years later. She and her sister-in-law cofounded a new suffrage party, to address the National Women's Party's failure to admit African-Americans. Alice Paul said they only wanted to turn it into a racial issue, but my great-grandmother called them all hypocrites. In public, no less." She smiles. "Am I boring you?"

"Not at all. You sound like a museum guide."

"So I am boring you."

"You're not boring me!"

There is another picture of importance beside it, an eight-year-old Lucy on her grandmother's lap. Her grandmother smiles at the camera, but Lucy looks away, as if there's something of greater interest elsewhere.

"Why don't you have any of your own baby pictures hanging up?"

She shrugs. "I always had some sort of rash devouring my face."

In the most ornate frame on the wall, a young couple poses atop the dome of some European cathedral. "Your great-grandparents?"

"My grandparents, actually. Mary and Teddy."

The honeymoon, no doubt. Smiling serenely, Lucy's grandmother rests her head on her husband's shoulder. "She must have been quite tall."

Lucy shakes her head, her eyes still on the photograph. "She was standing on something."

The date is written in the bottom right corner of the photograph. "Wow," he says. "My grandmother was born in 1929."

"We like to spread out the generations in this family," she says. "My mother didn't have me until she was forty."

He returns to the family tree done in careful calligraphy, confused by what seems to be the matrilineal inheritance of surnames. Then he notices that Morrigan is Lucy's middle name--she only uses it as her last. Does this anger her father much, or is he the sort of man who concedes to any feminazi laboring for the fall of the patriarchy?

Gray points to a picture of a young couple taken at a picnic. "Is this your dad?" She nods. Her father looks like a garden-variety eccentric: black-rimmed eyeglasses; somewhat emaciated, as though he found time to eat only on festive occasions like this; and a mop of thick dark curls he'd probably never combed through a day in his life. It's almost eerie, Lucy's resemblance to her mother.

But seeing as Lucy wears her wedding ring, he knows better than to ask. "Where is your father now?"

She pauses. "Do you remember that fire in the Kellman Building?"

Two years ago last month, four scientists had died in the basement laboratory. He remembers passing all the gaudy memorials on the quad, four ten-by-twelve university yearbook portraits in flimsy metal frames festooned with wilting pink and yellow carnations. "Your father was . . . ?"

She nods.

"I'm sorry."

Lucy turns out the lamp. "Thanks," she says, "but let's talk about something else."

10:04 p.m.

The Study

In silence he takes in the floor-to-ceiling bookcases filled with leather-bound volumes, the amaryllis growing in a blue crackleware pot on the windowsill behind the desk, the stone fireplace, and the sofa upholstered in crimson velvet. As Lucy closes the door behind them, he regards himself sadly in the large silver-framed mirror above the mantelpiece: he's too young for these wiry gray hairs sprouting at his temples, but not even the priciest hair dye could banish the avuncular air hanging about him these days.

Beneath the mirror is a small butterfly collection, a dozen specimens pinned to the board inside a glass case filmed with dust.

Setting her glass on the coffee table, she kneels before the hearth to turn the gas knob, and in a few seconds a fire burns cheerfully in the grate. In the far corner of the study there is an arched doorway leading into another lightless room. "What's through there?" he asks.

She settles onto the sofa. "A few drawing rooms, and then the great room. Nobody ever uses it, though."

"Why not?"

"It's too big."

Five sets of footsteps fall heavily on the stairs as the boarders retreat to their bedrooms with their late-night snacks.

"How long have they lived here?"

"The boys? Only since September. Colin and Felix are doing their Ph.D.'s in philosophy and theology, Dewey is writing a thesis on the metaphysical poets, and Rob and Milo are each doing a master's in computer science." She pauses. "Why are you looking at me like that?"

"I just find it a bit strange, you living in your family home with a bunch of guys."

"What's so strange about it? They needed a place to live, and I needed some extra cash."

"Is that so?"

"Keeping a house of this age and size isn't easy, or cheap. As it is, I'm not doing as much as I'd like, if I had the time." She pauses. "And come to think of it, I like having them around."

"I'm amazed you can keep them all straight."

"It's just the clothes they wear. They're all quite different despite their common purpose in life."

" 'Common purpose'?"

"They're a cult," she says, wineglass poised at her lips. "The Seventh Order of Saint Agatha."

"They look more like anarchists than religious zealots."

"As far as I can tell, they're a secular order. But they've all taken a vow of celibacy. I don't know, some sort of new-wave male purity movement."

He shakes his head. "Weird."

"Saint Agatha was a virgin martyr. Your old friends the Romans, they relieved her of her breasts."

Next to the butterfly collection is a photograph of Lucy in a blue commencement gown, beside her a stern-looking woman with a Sontag-like silver streak in her thick dark hair. "That's Megan," Lucy says. "My father's best friend. I work in her lab."

"What sort of research?"

"Right now we're testing a new drug for Huntington's. If it works as well as we hope, it should delay the onset of symptoms for at least a decade."

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"Engrossing, incessantly surprising, and extraordinarily touching." – JIM GRACE, author of The Pesthouse and Being Dead

Meet the Author

ERIC CONGER has voiced over 150 fiction and nonfiction audiobooks. A graduate of Wesleyan University and the University of Paris, he also works as a writer and playwright (The Eclectic Society. He lives in Weehawken, New Jersey, with his wife, Gayle, and two children.

Born and raised in New Jersey, CAMILLE DEANGELIS co-wrote Frommer's Hanging Out in Ireland and is currently writing Moon Handbooks: Ireland. She received an MA in the writing program at the National University of Ireland, Galway, in 2005. Mary Modern is her first novel.

JENNA LAMIA has one countless awards for her narration of such audiobooks as The Girl with the Pearl Earring, Witness, and The Secret Life of Bees.

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Mary Modern 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Guest More than 1 year ago
One of her characters claims, ¿I don¿t believe in proselytizing¿¿ ¿ ironically, Camille DeAngelis does just that in Mary Modern. From repeatedly referring to Christians as Jesus Freaks to reiterating complaints about right wing conservatives, DeAngelis destroys a creative story with didactic lessons and preaching from her political pulpit. The story line about cloning one¿s grandmother is imaginative and the repercussions of Lucy¿s decision to clone her grandmother are cleverly conveyed. However, the reader is bogged down time and time again with the author's compulsion to assert her beliefs, which in no way develops the plot. Her main character Lucy is one dimensional and the relationship between Gray and Mary 'her cloned grandmother' is underdeveloped. While the novel is at times a page turner, the lecturing is distracting.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Welcome to 25 University Avenue, where a romantic old mansion, filled with memories, hides lab equipment capable of cloning the dead. Meet Lucy Morrigan, a bright scientist and her professorial boyfriend, Gray. When Lucy finds she cannot conceive she uses her father's womb simulator to clone her dead grandmother, hoping to create the daughter she cannot have from the woman she loved. But when the experiment goes awry, it's not just Lucy's hopes that are susceptible to destruction, but her job, her boyfriend's trust, her mentor's friendship, and her very memories... Mary Modern is a fairy-tale story, splendidly gothic in setting and scope. With beautiful details and deft humor, the author drew me in to a page-turning tale whose ending had more twists and turns than the story mansion's labyrinth. A fantastic debut. I look forward to reading more from Ms. DeAngelis.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In New Halcyon, Massachusetts, twenty-eight year old biogenetic researcher Lucy Morrigan shares her family mansion with her boyfriend Gray. The house built in 1882 needs major renovation that Lucy ignores just as she pays little attention to the rooms filled with the artifacts of the four generations of Morrigan who have lived there. In fact the only modern place in what some less kind folks would say is the Morrigan mausoleum or gentler people museum is the off limit to Gray basement that Lucy¿s late dad converted to a secret laboratory. Her efforts to become pregnant the old fashion ¿Bonobo¿ way has failed as she is infertile. Thus Lucy who wants to birth the next generation turns to an apron containing dried blood from her deceased grandmother. Lucy clones her grandma and places the elixir inside her womb. However, within the first trimester, a pregnant Lucy is whale size humongous so her friend Megan, experienced via being married to an ob-gyn surgeon, performs a C-section to remove the fetus from Lucy and place it in a machine emulating a womb. Six months later, Mary is born as a twenty-two years old with a memory that ended in 1929. However, a minister hears rumors of MARY MODERN and demands the cloning of Jesus or he will bring the fires of hell (the modern day mob ¿ righteous protestors) to Lucy¿s dilapidated mansion. --- A sort of modernizing of Dr. Frankenstein, MARY MODERN is an entertaining thought provoking thriller that asks readers to consider the consequences of cloning famous humans. The story line is at its best when Lucy plays the role of Dr. Frankenstein competing with her creation for the affection of Gray. Mary¿s adjustment to seven plus decades of life is probably too easy, but no one will care as Camille DeAngelis will have her audience debating the ethical and pragmatic implications of cloning from varying perspectives. --- Harriet Klausner