ScienceThrillers.com review of The Neanderthal’s Aunt by Gina DeMarco
ScienceThrillers says, buy this book!
Publication date: January 2014
Category: Unclassifiable LabLit; humor
Tech rating (out of 5):
Summary (from the author):
Sara Nicoletta, PhD, is about to become the aunt of a Neanderthal baby.
Or so her sister Liz says. A company named Barlas Labs claims that it can make a Neanderthal from its DNA sequence. Liz, a yoga-loving socialite, has signed up to be their first customer.
A mixture of science and humor, THE NEANDERTHAL’S AUNT combines cutting edge biology with an incorrigible dog, intermittent veganism, and a little light bondage to ultimately tell the story of two sisters who become fundamentally divided on the question of what it means to be human.
I get a lot of requests for reviews of indie (self-published) novels. Only a handful make it into my TBR (to be read) pile. Something about The Neanderthal’s Aunt caught my interest. Once I started reading, I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Gina DeMarco’s new novel is the most fun book I’ve read in quite a while, and possibly the best indie novel I’ve ever read.
Now, before any critics start flying off the handle, yes, I acknowledge the ebook (currently this title is only available in digital format, and only at amazon.com) has a lot of typos. I did not fail to notice. However, the extraordinary voice of the narrator and the many times I laughed out loud were more than enough reward to ignore those editorial oversights.
If Bridget Jones were a scientist, The Neanderthal’s Aunt would be her diary.
The Neanderthal’s Aunt is a wildly entertaining combination of family sitcom, social satire, geek humor, real science, and remarkably touching philosophy about what it means to be human. Loosely, it’s the story of one year in the life of Dr. Sara Nicoletta, a Boston-dwelling PhD scientist who is a molecular biologist and expert on viruses. During this time, her own somewhat pathetic life is overshadowed by the public adventures of her recently-widowed, New York socialite sister who has announced that she is going to be the mother of a Neanderthal baby.
Hilarity, with a heavy dose of snark, follows. The story encompasses “birdstorms” (dead flocks falling out of the sky), a jealous chimpanzee, how to cook placenta, an escaped convict, a man’s belt on Craigslist, handheld RNA sequencers, emails from a dead man, glow-in-the-dark dogs, artificial chromosomes, cytokine storms, disco dancing at a genomics conference, and the funniest baby shower you’ve never been to.
A basic tension keeps you reading until the very end: is the Neanderthal baby a hoax, or not?
The plot threads and characters all weave together. The doorman, the dead husband, the priest brother, the would-be lover are all crucial in the end.
If the book has one problem, it’s a slight miscalculation of tone. Mostly this is a funny, funny piece of satire. But it also has a ton of heart, sincerity, and love. Balancing those two elements is hard and there were a few moments when I thought it could have been done more gracefully. And of course, if you’re one of the types of people skewered in the writing, you might not find it as funny as I did.
Gina DeMarco, the author, is writing under a pseudonym. She claims to be a working scientist. I have no doubt about that. I’d be willing to guess that she’s also a science blogger and that this might not be her first book. I hope she’s also a teacher, or works with the media, because she clearly has a gift for explaining science in ways that are both accurate and totally understandable.
I highly recommend this book, especially to smart, sensible women in any profession. Best entertainment bargain you’ll find anywhere.
Gina DeMarco, whoever you are, keep on writing!
Memorable quotes from Dr. Sara Nicoletta, narrator:
“I didn’t see why having one seventy pound German shepherd was considered normal but having ten seven pound Chihuahuas was weird. It’s the same amount of dog.”
“I wondered how Liz’s dinner parties would go if everyone else was eating organic barley and seitan pilaf and a Neanderthal child was at the table tucking into a deer’s liver. They might get jealous.”
“Geneticists, anthropologists, and bioethicists weighed in briefly, but most of the conversation was dominated by celebrity pundits with a distinct emphasis on strong rather than informed opinions. One woman kept confusing genetic engineering with embryonic research but they kept inviting her back. And a man on the street objected because he had heard the term Homo Neanderthalis and thought the whole project was part of the gay agenda.”
“The trainer at the gym said that I had a functional level of cardiovascular fitness but imbalanced muscle tone. She said it very gravely but I did not think that it was a dire enough condition to warrant buying the personal trainer package.”
“Hanlon’s razor tells us to never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”
“’Our collaborators are mailing me some frozen rats next week. They’re infected.’ This is how scientists flirt.”
“Catholics don’t have anything against evolution. A literal interpretation of the Bible, the kind that says the earth is six thousand years old, has never been a part of our religion, at least not since St. Augustine warned against preaching idiocy to Pagans in 415 AD.”
Alert: some (LOL funny) adult sexual content