Former Freer curator Linda Merrill particularly likes the way Zuravleff conveys Whittaker's deep love for her research while showing how she must instantly abandon her professional universe to, say, take a call from the school nurse. The lives of working mothers, Merrill says -- in a brief phone interview, with a 2-year-old loudly demanding attention in the background -- are rarely so well evoked in fiction.
On the same plot-thickening day, Whittaker learns that she's pregnant with a third child and is asked to guide her museum through the biggest crisis it has ever faced. Her husband rolls up his sleeves to help. Unsurprisingly, he's stunned by the amount of work on the Mother Planet.
Returning briefly to the question of the real and the fictional: No, Zuravleff's husband doesn't smoke dope, and no, no, no, he doesn't wear socks with sandals. But when he got to the part in his wife's manuscript where Whittaker observes that the family dishwasher "looked as if it had been loaded by a blind person with a backhoe," he did write, "Aren't you getting a little personal?" in the margin.