Properties of Light: A Novel of Love, Betrayal and Quantum Physics

Rebecca Goldstein, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $23 (224p) ISBN 978-0-395-98659-2
Putting her Ph.D. in the philosophy of science to good use, Goldstein (The Mind-Body Problem) chronicles the quest of three physicists seeking to reconcile quantum mechanics and relativity theory in this epistemological gothic romance. It's soon evident that the narrator, Justin Childs, a physicist at one time skeptical of the soul's existence, is now, ironically, a ghost haunting his former lover, Dana Mallach, whom he blames for his death. Beginning a few years after Justin's demise, the story unfolds as he ""relives"" events. Justin is a young professor at a prestigious eastern university when he meets Samuel Mallach, an embittered old theorist based on real-life mid-20th-century physicist David Bohm. Despite Justin's disgust at Mallach's mystical leanings, he believes he can harness the man's talents to his own mathematical genius. Mallach and Dana, who's his devoted and brilliant physicist daughter, have their own plan to that end: they intend to lure Justin into tantric sex with Dana, in an attempt to elicit scientific inspiration. Justin and Dana do become lovers, and Mallach, Justin and Dana grow so close that Mallach feels deeply betrayed when he discovers Justin has been assisting his well-respected nemesis at the university. He commits suicide, and Justin is killed soon after in a car accident, the driver a furious Dana. Not until many years after his death is Justin's spirit able to forgive Dana and fully understand the vulnerabilities of all involved in the tragic liaison. Though the rarefied air the characters breathe can be stifling, at its best the novel is bewitchingly ethereal. Goldstein gracefully deconstructs our contradictory impulses, suggesting, as Justin concludes, that ""we are things that would know and we are things that would love."" Agent, Tina Bennett. Author tour. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 07/31/2000
Release date: 08/01/2000
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