GIVE ME YOUR HAND. By Megan Abbott. Little, Brown and Co. 352 pages. $27.
In “Give Me Your Hand,” author Megan Abbott turns to the dark side of friendship and ambition with an intriguing story about two women scientists vying to conduct groundbreaking work in a pressure cooker of a research lab. Abbott infuses just enough science to boost her novel without overwhelming it. The lab is a metaphor for any demanding workplace such as a law firm or a hospital.
Kit Owens and Diane Fleming became awkward, uneasy friends in high school, drawn together by prowess on the track and their interest in science. The teens inspire each other to do better and to want more. They are each other’s closest and fiercest competitor. They both want to win a scholarship established by a legendary scientist. Then Diane confesses an unfathomable dark secret that makes Kit end their friendship.
Kit often remembers, “My mom always says, you don’t have a self until you have a secret.” But Diane’s revelation was beyond the pale for Kit, showing her “what darkness was, and is, and how it works, and how it never goes away, or ends.”
A dozen years later, Kit is firmly ensconced in the scientist’s demanding lab, putting in long hours and putting up with the barely concealed misogyny. Each of the scientists wants to be part of a two-person team that will study premenstrual dysphoric disorder. The others assume Kit’s position is assured as she is the only female researcher. Then Diane shows up, hired from a competing lab. The two women haven’t seen each other since high school graduation. But the years haven’t tempered their rivalry, distrust and mutual need for the other’s approval.
Abbott dissects obsessions that easily morph into destruction and aspirations that spiral into blind ambition. The personalities of Diane and Kit are manifested through their work.
Each woman has sacrificed much for her ambition, but one lost her soul to achieve her goal.
In “Give Me Your Hand,” Abbott again shows why she’s one of our best story tellers.