THE CENTER OF THINGS

Jenny McPhee, Author . Doubleday $22.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-385-50077-7

It takes guts for a debut novelist to mix such disparate subjects as abstruse science, philosophy, movies and the single life in New York City, but McPhee takes the risk with brio and acquits herself with élan. Her neurotic but appealing heroine, Marie Brown, is, at 39, still finding herself, in chronically self-deprecating fashion. She's "too tall, too plain," yearning to be married, fascinated by physics and ambivalent about her job as a tabloid journalist. It is at a science library in Manhattan that she meets fellow reader Marco Trentadue, self-described "freelance intellectual," who engages her in the sort of brainy banter that she once enjoyed with her estranged brother, Michael. Meanwhile, Marie is assigned to write the obituary of Nora Mars, legendary and scandalous film star, and finds herself fascinated by Nora's third husband, sexy and alcoholic singer Rex. The reasons for Marie's stalled career, muddled romantic opportunities and family troubles gradually become clear in a quixotically quirky story line that calls into play several different secret betrayals and reconciliations. McPhee's style is lean and frisky, and her novel is teasing, funny and intriguing. While the regular interpolation of scientific theory may not be to everyone's taste, and the cliffhanging chapter endings sometimes seem contrived, readers should enjoy McPhee's ability to integrate scientific speculation with the stuff of daily life. Indeed, as Marie begins to get insights into the directions her future will take, one starts to read with a smile, appreciating the skill with which McPhee creates a satisfying romantic glow. (July)

Forecast: One of the daughters of writer John McPhee, Jenny McPhee has previously published short stories, translated books from the Italian and collaborated with her sisters Martha and Laura on Girls. While the McPhee name may be the initial drawing card here, the novel's offbeat charm will distinguish Jenny McPhee as an accomplished writer with her own distinctive style.

Reviewed on: 06/11/2001
Release date: 07/01/2001
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 272 pages - 978-0-345-44765-4
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