“[Andrea Barrett has] a scientist’s fascination for the natural world, but her primary concern is always human character and community.”— Paris Review
In Natural History, Andrea Barrett completes and connects the lives of the family of scientists, teachers, and innovators she has been weaving throughout her books since her National Book Award – winning collection Ship Fever was published twenty-five years ago. The six exquisite stories in Natural History (including the unforgettable capstone, the novella-length title story) are set largely in a small community in central New York State and portray some of her most beloved characters. Told with Barrett’s characteristic elegance, passion for science, and wonderful eye for the natural world, these psychologically astute and moving stories evoke the ways women’s lives and expectations — in families, in work, and in love — have shifted across a century and more.
Throughout, Barrett’s great theme comes shining through: how the smallest events of the past can have large reverberations across the generations, and how potent, wondrous, and strange the relationship between history and memory can be.
“Her work stands out for its sheer intelligence, its painstaking attempt to discern and describe the world’s configuration.”— New York Times
The elegant short fictions gathered hereabout the love of science and the science of love are often set against the backdrop of the nineteenth century. Interweaving historical and fictional characters, they encompass both past and present as they negotiate the complex territory of ambition, failure, achievement, and shattered dreams. In “Ship Fever,” the title novella, a young Canadian doctor finds himself at the center of one of history’s most tragic epidemics. In “The English Pupil,” Linnaeus, in old age, watches as the world he organized within his head slowly drifts beyond his reach. And in “The Littoral Zone,” two marine biologists wonder whether their life-altering affair finally was worth it. In the tradition of Alice Munro and William Trevor, these exquisitely rendered fictions encompass whole lives in a brief space. As they move between interior and exterior journeys, “science is transformed from hard and known fact into malleable, strange and thrilling fictional material” (Boston Globe).