At a moment when much attention is being given to truth and accuracy, or the lack thereof, in writing, Allegra Goodman's latest novel is a timely exploration of the importance of both and a reminder that each can come at a price. Set in the rigorous and high-stakes world of cancer research, Intuition rests on the premise that most things that appear too good to be true most likely are. In an intriguing twist, Goodman explores how this premise can apply to the quest for the truth itself, with some unexpected results.
At the Philpott Institute, the cancer research lab has not had a standout study in some time, much to the frustration of the head scientists. All that changes when the mice in Cliff Bannaker's experiment begin responding to his test drug. As repeated tests bear similar success, the excitement crescendos from thoughts of potential grant money to publications in medical journals to an imminent miracle cancer drug. Amid the uncharacteristic giddiness, however, Cliff's colleague and former girlfriend, Robin Decker, begins to think that something is amiss. Unable to successfully reproduce the experiments herself, Robin begins to wonder whether Cliff's results are perhaps a bit too good.
For those in charge at the Philpott Institute, however, passing over Robin's charges proves quite simple: they're awed by the possibilities of Cliff's findings and more than a little skeptical of Robin's motives. Robin, however, refuses to disappear without a fight. As the stakes get higher, the lines between right and wrong, and subsequently true and false, become increasingly harder to distinguish. Goodman masterfully structures her story, accomplishing the rare achievement of presenting characters possessing disparate views with even-handed power. She allows the suspense to build until the unexpected resolution and, in doing so, explores both the power and cost of truth and, ultimately, its betrayal. Meredith McGuire writes from San Francisco.