For A Good Time in Cambridge: Andrea Barrett, Great Fiction Meets Tasty History of Science edition…
Tonight, Thursday, October 15, Andrea Barrett — wonderful and much acclaimed novelist and short story virtuouso — will be giving a rare talk in the Boston area.
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: MIT, building 6, room 120. (Interactive campus map is here.)
Barrett is the perfect creator of fictions to speak to an MIT-esque audience. She creates powerful stories, lives examined in connection with each other, under the pressure of selves, loss, time. And much of what those characters care about has something to do with science. Barrett is best known, I think, for her jeweler-precise use of the history of biology as engines for her stories, though geology certainly comes in, and in the work I’m reading today, The Air We Breathe, the paleontology that forms one of her people’s passions jostles with the history of x-rays, chemistry, and the fact and feeling of ideas of health and disease as it organized itself around the TB epidemic of the early part of the last century.
Best of all, her treatment of all this is meticulous, accurate, engrossing — and yet always in service of the story. Great stuff, both for those whose first love is fiction, and those, like me, who wonder how best to speak of science to our fellow citizens.
Also — if you like the public seals of approval: Barrett won the National Book Award for Ship Fever, a story collection, received wide acclaim and best seller status for several other works, of which The Voyage of the Narwhal might be the best known, and has more recently published Servants of the Map* and The Air We Breathe. She can add a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship and finalist recognition for the Pulitzer to her trophy case — but the point for me is that the work is consistently gripping.
Come if you can.
*This collection of stories can serve as a deft introduction to the history of evolutionary biology from early nineteenth century efforts to reconcile the fossil record with scripture, through the impact of the Darwinian moment, to the present day. It’s a full-service read, IOW.
Image: René Théophile Hyacinthe Laennec (1781-1825): De l’auscultation médiate, 1819.