A female geneticist makes her way through the scientific world of the mid-20th century.
Even before her first brush with cytogenetics in college, Kate has always known she was different—alienated by her appearance-focused mother and sister; “stifled and out of place” in the small Brooklyn house where she’d grown up. Shaped by the memory of her father, a physician who’d died in World War II when she was a child, Kate has “always been interested in where things came from and how they worked…in what was going on under the rubbery skin of the visible world.” But it’s only when Kate takes an introductory biology course at Cornell that her lifelong preoccupation with genetics begins to blossom. As a research assistant in the school’s greenhouses, Kate is taught to study the inherited characteristics of hybrid plant crosses; while there, she meets mellow-natured John Thatcher, a fellow RA who becomes a collaborator and lifelong friend. As the two progress first through Cornell’s botany Ph.D. program and then the bureaucratic labyrinth of research academia, Kate must learn to carve her way through the male-dominated scientific world—pursuing her own experiments without external support; fending off romantic advances from colleagues; contending with theft of her discoveries. In a career that takes Kate from Cornell to the prestigious Cold Spring Harbor laboratory to, eventually, the Nobel Prize for her discovery of genetic transposition at the apex of her career—showing that DNA sequences can change their positions in a genome, creating or reversing genetic mutations—Kate learns that a life of the mind is not always compatible with romantic relationships or even comprehensible to the people around her, even those she loves most. This novel, whose protagonist is modeled after Barbara McClintock, the first and only woman to win the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine alone, offers a compelling journey through the frustrating, stymied, yet often fascinating world of scientific innovation. Kate is a satisfying character to root for—stubborn, tender, and occasionally myopic—though some supporting characters are underdeveloped or slot into predictable subplots. Still, Pastan’s ability to display the distinctly human side of scientific discovery—its many pitfalls, thrills, and missteps—keeps the novel’s heart alive.
Engaging and heartfelt.
“An inspiring story of triumph against the odds in a historical based loosely on the life of Nobel-winning scientist Barbara McClintock . . . spirited. This swift story educates as much as it excites.” — Publishers Weekly
"The novel, sensual, stirring—suspenseful . . . a story splendidly imagined, but with all the dimension and complexity that comes from the author’s original fascination and respect for the real-life character." — Los Angeles Review of Books
“. . . offers a compelling journey through the frustrating, stymied, yet often fascinating world of scientific innovation. . . . Pastan displays the distinctly human side of scientific discovery—its many pitfalls, thrills, and missteps.” — Kirkus Reviews
“Rachel Pastan (Alena) offers a compassionate, clear-eyed story of self-determination, love and science. In the Field excels in its multifaceted view of a complex woman: scientist, lover, friend, student of life in both biology and philosophy. Readers will be better for time spent with this patient, tender, loving examination of a life devoted to examination of life. Kate is a character who will stay with readers for a long time.” — Shelf Awareness
“Rachel Pastan has written a compelling and compulsively readable tale about a complex woman’s path to success in biological science—showing us, through subtle social conflicts and in lucid evocative prose, the difficulties of entering any field as an unconventional, impassioned participant.” — Harold Varmus, Lewis Thomas University Professor, Weill Cornell Medicine; Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
“Rachel Pastan’s In the Field is a thoroughly engrossing and timely adjacentto-reality story about many things at once, both intimate and ‘public.’ I was most compelled by its reminder that the pursuit of scientific discovery challenges its actors with painful moral dilemmas, dramatic choices at every turn. Her Barbara McClintock stand-in travels a road littered with so many boulders that her ultimate ‘success’ is a cheering but complicated destination." — Rosellen Brown, author of Before and After and Lake on Fire
Praise for Alena: “Alena is so eerie and elegantly suspenseful that I could see myself rereading it, the way I reread Rebecca every few years or so.” — Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air
“Alena is often a brilliant takedown of the self-serious art world, rendering it helplessly camp by sprinkling some of its august and/or provocative names . . .” — Alex Kuczynski, New York Times Book Review (Editors' Choice)
“In her luminous and sure-footed new novel, Alena, Rachel Pastan has taken on a daunting task: borrowing the basic story of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, transporting it to contemporary times and setting it in an isolated art museum on Cape Cod.” — Carolyn Parkhurst, The Washington Post
“Rachel Pastan's Alena is at once a meticulously reconstructed death scene and an intelligent conversation about the nature of art; this skillfully crafted novel, which sustains the tension of a ghost story, is both an homage to Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca and an insightful meditation on our obsessive preoccupation with death—simultaneously creepy and entrancing.” — John Irving
“A magnetic Cape Cod museum owner invites a native Midwestern woman to take over the role of curator—replacing his one-time muse—and then stands by as she battles the lurking secrets her predecessor left behind.” — O, The Oprah Magazine: Winter Reading
“‘Last night I dreamed of Nauquasset again.’ Fans of Daphne du Maurier's timeless Rebecca will revel in this contemporary homage to her gothic masterpiece.” — Margaret Flanagan, Booklist
“Hitchcockian suspense infiltrates the cloistered contemporary art scene in Pastan's riveting third novel. . . . Flush with erotic intrigues and insights into real, working artists, Pastan has written a smart, chilling thriller that leaves readers thoroughly spooked.” — Publishers Weekly
Praise for Lady of the Snakes: “Rachel Pastan's novel, Lady of the Snakes, came out in February, but I've been saving it, because I had a hunch that it would be my idea of the perfect summer book—and was I ever right. Lady of the Snakes is a literary mystery crossed with a funny, feminist commentary on marriage—think A.S. Byatt linking arms in sisterhood with chick-lit champs Susan Isaacs and Jennifer Weiner.” — Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air
“Both a clever academic novel and a cunning literary detective story, Lady of the Snakes is perhaps most remarkable in its unflinching and compassionate portrait of its heroine, a young woman struggling to manage the competing demands of marriage, motherhood, and career. This is a marvelous, fearless book.” — Ann Packer, author of The Dive from Clausen's Pier
“Can a woman have both a fulfilling career and a storybook family life? If you're looking for answers to this wearisome question, check out the manifestos by everyone from Betty Friedan to Caitlin Flanagan. If you want to see the dilemma smartly dramatized in the experience of an appealing, intelligent heroine, read Rachel Pastan's crisp novel, Lady of the Snakes.” — Entertainment Weekly
Praise for This Side of Married: “Pastan cunningly reveals the myriad sides of being married—the good, the bad, and the ugly—in an engaging look at the current state of love and courtship.” — Carol Haggas, Booklist
“Rachel Pastan has written a novel about families and falling in love that is at once moving, funny, and true. This Side of Married is a wedding bouquet of great wit and affection.” — Meg Wolitzer, author of The Interestings
“Jane Austen's honey-and-vinegar spirit is alive and well in Rachel Pastan's delightful novel. She has grasped, with style and authority, the Austen paradox: the women's independence can be laced with the need for love, both given and received; and that wit and a critical eye can—must—serve a moral and, finally, forgiving vision. This Side of Married may mark its author's debut, but she has commanded the dance floor like a pro.” — Rosellen Brown