Sandy Glass, a charismatic publicity-seeking oncologist, and Marion Mendelssohn, a pure, exacting scientist, are codirectors of a lab at the Philpott Institute dedicated to cancer research and desperately in need of a grant. Both mentors and supervisors of their young postdoctoral proteges, Glass and Mendelssohn demand dedication and obedience in a competitive environment where funding is scarce and results elusive. So when the experiments of Cliff Bannaker, a young postdoc in a rut, begin to work, the entire lab becomes giddy with newfound expectations. But Cliff's rigorous colleague - and girlfriend - Robin Decker suspects the unthinkable: that his findings are fraudulent. As Robin makes her private doubts public and Cliff maintains his innocence, a life-changing controversy engulfs the lab and everyone in it.
Every character here -- even the relatively minor ones, even the relatives of minor ones -- is endowed by their creator with the fullest complements of flaws, tics, vices, strengths, virtues and moments of nobility. Just when we think we know her self-promoting, hard-charging oncologist Sandy Glass, just when we are smirking contemptuously at him, Goodman peels back another layer and invites us to peer harder. We find ourselves looking at a loyal chevalier whose capacity for devotion to a colleague wipes the smirk off our face. It works in reverse with another character, Jacob, husband to Glass's exacting scientific partner, Marion Mendelssohn. Jacob has put his own brilliance at the service of his wife's career and seems the model of modest self-sacrifice. Yet he's gradually revealed as a secret manipulator who, with a few careful words, will set in motion the events that threaten his wife's reputation and the existence of her research lab. But it is not a simple matter of "people are not what they seem." Goodman doesn't stop. Sandy Glass has many more layers, and so does Jacob Mendelssohn. So does everybody. To be honest, it's tiring. But it's also ultimately rewarding.