Kaaterskill Falls author moves from enclave to autoclave.
Your novel Intuition involves a woman cancer lab director and a woman postdoc. Were you working on the book when Larry Summers made his infamous remarks about women and science?
I must have been revising it at the time. Larry Summers's remarks were bald-faced, out-of-context and without nuance. These issues—about women in science, men in science, the relationship between them and the politics of science—are such a rich ground for fiction to treat with ambiguity and nuance and subtlety.
Your late mother was a geneticist and your sister is an oncologist. Do you see parallels between scientific research and writing?
Yes. The patience, the revision, the slow progress, the faltering steps, the obsessive feeling that just around the corner is the discovery you want to make or express. And also, on a very basic level, the feeling that scientists and artists are both describing the world, in very different ways.
The novel's scientific researchers make serious compromises to get government funding. True to life?
The pressure to produce for funding is there. I think any kind of intellectual activity that is driven by money can get corrupted.
Does the book comment on stem cell research?
No, I'm not an op-ed writer. Though stem cell research is a nexus of very complicated questions, and I think my characters' ethical dilemma resonates in the real world. There's the force within science that wants freedom, and there's this force that wants to legislate and control—where values of government come in.
So cancer research isn't a stand-in, like the Salem witch trials were for the McCarthy hearings in The Crucible?
It isn't. I've always hated The Crucible. I think that's where art really gets hijacked by people's political agendas.
The Jews in this book are very different from those in Kaaterskill Falls. How is your subject matter evolving?
This book is about a professional community rather than simply a Jewish community. In this book perhaps the religion is science, and the ritual is the ritual of the lab.
Do I still consider myself a Jewish writer? Absolutely. When I break for lunch, I make myself a nice herring sandwich.