Elizabeth Mann, the daughter of a world famous fertility specialist whom she despises, hasn’t quite made it into medical school. She runs away to London, where she can revel in an orgy of self-destructive behavior, while working as a freelance writer for a travel guidebook. She soon develops two obsessions. In an obscure medical museum she encounters the skeleton of Jonathan Wild, a famous 18th century criminal who met his death by hanging. During the same museum visit, she runs across Gideon Streetcar, a young fertility specialist who once worked with her father. Though Gideon is "happily" married, he and Elizabeth soon begin a torrid affair.

Elizabeth’s obsession with Jonathan Wild grows when, through Gideon, she obtains a copy of the criminal’s second wife’s memoir. Through it, she learns that his first wife, who died in childbirth, was named Elizabeth Mann. She develops a scheme to obtain DNA from Wild’s skeleton and use it in association with an experimental cloning procedure to become pregnant with the 18th century criminal’s child (clone).

When the 25 year old Elizabeth reveals that her father tied her tubes when she was 16, after having aborted her fetus--a "slut," he called her--Gideon agrees to attempt in vitro fertilization with her eggs and his sperm. He transfers two blastocysts, plus one of the supposedly cloned Jonathan Wild cells. She becomes pregnant. Soon thereafter she returns to the USA when her father has a massive heart attack and she, apparently, has an opportunity to go to medical school.


Elizabeth Mann tries to escape her expected role as father’s daughter and future doctor; she flees to England to escape her father’s obsessive and destructive presence. But she carries the destruction with her, along with curiosity and hope. In becoming obsessed with the story of an 18th century criminal, she attempts to free herself from the bonds of Heredity. If only she could give birth to Jonathan Wild’s clone--a creation entirely free of her own genetic material--she might free herself of the hereditary ties that bind her.

However, Elizabeth’s search for freedom leads her deeper and deeper into self-destructive behavior and into a complex affair with a man who is in many ways the surrogate son of her despised father. Gideon, who is unable to have children with his wife, finds Elizabeth a willing receptacle, albeit under the pretense that she is really carrying Jonathan Wild’s clone. Nonetheless, Elizabeth is also influenced by the basic goodness and humanity of the people she encounters--yes, Gideon is an adulterer, but there is a side of him that is decent and good-hearted as well; and Miranda, his wife, a supportive and generous woman; and Dahlia, Elizabeth’s sensible old friend; and a number of other characters. Will environment influence heredity? The book’s ending is ambiguous--Elizabeth has been accepted into medical school, and it seems as if she might accept the position and possibly--just possibly--bury the hatchet with her critically ill father.


Soft Skull Press

Place Published

New York



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