This is a writing sample by “nycghostwriter,” AKA Barbara Finkelstein. It is “Things Fall Apart,” a book review published in New York Newsday. You can get professional ghostwriting services from a published non-fiction writer. Email me or fill out the short form on my contact page.
NEW YORK NEWSDAY | Sunday, May 20, 1990
SAVING ST. GERM by Carol Muske Dukes, Viking, 264 pp., $21
By Barbara Finkelstein
For every action, goes the scientific tenet, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This premise, which most of us learned in junior high school, presupposes a cosmic eye-for-an-eye justice. It reassures us that life has predictable consequences. You kick a kid, he’ll kick you back. But anybody who has ever dealt with a spouse, children, school principals, employers or lawyers knows just how unequal and unpredictable two opposing forces can be. Jack Kennedy summed it up pretty well when he said life is unfair.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to reach this conclusion. But it does take an Esme Charbonneau, the engagingly original biochemist of Carol Muske Dukes’ Saving St. Germ, to suggest that unfairness is one of life’s natural laws. In one of several scientific musings about the notion of parity, Esme cites an experiment by three Chinese-Americans in which more electrons unaccountably zoom to one end of a box than to the other. Esme’s “theory of everything,” or TOE, is that life tends toward disequilibrium. While the universe is ruled by four forces — the nuclear force, electromagnetism, gravity and the weak force, it is the weak force, a kind of slow-moving, left-handed bias, that sabotages any other universal inclination toward symmetry.
Don’t think that Dukes — the author of Dear Digby, a novel, and five books of poetry — has written some droning treatise on quantum physics. Ease’s scientific musings artfully and whimsically parallel the “weak forces” undermining her life. A talented Harvard postdoctoral graduate, Esme abandons her mentor and her medical-student lover to carry out her own research at the University of Greater California in Los Angeles. She marries Kay Tallich, a TV documentary director in love with Hollywood and liquor.
Their incompatibility, exemplified by Esme’s pronunciation of Peter Lorre’s last name as “Lor,” comes to a head over their daughter, Ollie. The red-haired kindergartner does not act like most other five-year-olds. She talks to herself in a very personal, prismatic language, which Esme takes to be a sign of metaphoric thinking and Jay a sign of dysfunction. By the time Jay demands sole custody of Ollie, Esme has been fired from her teaching position, has lost her research assistant and has been scooped by a female colleague with whom she has discussed the idea of “chirality” — a complex theory related to the incompatibility of certain molecules. In her own life. Esme’s TOE holds true: At the slightest pretext, things fall apart; the center cannot hold.
Saving St. Germ is a prescient novel for the 1990s. The downward spiral of Esme’s life is decidedly anti-yuppie, a theme similar to those put forth in novels as diverse as Robert Stone’s Outerbridge Reach and Nora Johnson’s Perfect Together. Dukes seems to be saying that every rational order we have worshipped in recent decades — democracy, sexual equality, the nuclear family, consumerism, junk-bond capitalism — has taken on a messy, irrational, haywire life of its own. The parity we ascribe to our social systems and personal relationships does not exist as an immutable, ultimately attainable ideal. Moreover, treating life as a manageable commodity does not necessarily protect you or your children from the vagaries of a roguish fate.
In a scene near the end of Saving St. Germ, for example, Esme encounters a homeless woman and her three children on the streets of L.A., and sees how easily she too could lose the mainstays of her emotional and financial comfort. In her heart and mind, Esme knows that there but for the grace of God goes she.
“From the time I was a little kid,” Esme says, “I loved the sense [science] gave me, not so much that there were answers, as that certain things always happened in the same way and you could count on them.” It’s primarily through intuition, though, not rational thought, that Esme developers her TOE, and expressly through sympathy that she knows that little Ollie is not autistic. Life may have its fundamental principles, and Esme’s discussion of them is what makes Saving St. Germ a beautifully intelligent work of fiction. But as Esme herself says to her former lover, “I think that in this . . . state of entropy we live in, the power to bless is the only real power for good that we have.”
Barbara Finkelstein reviews frequently for this newspaper.