three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
48-Sept-Oct-2010
user_rating: 
0

A-LucyLaurence Gonzales is the author of Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why (2003), as well as several other works of nonfiction. This is his first novel.

The Story: Readers seeing the title of the latest book by Laurence Gonzales and the leafy design of its cover might think its subject is the protohuman "Lucy" skeleton discovered in the 1970s. But Gonzales’ Lucy is alive and kicking--as well as swinging through trees and eating bananas with the peel still on. This Lucy is a scientific wonder, a hybrid ape-human who appears to be a normal teenage girl but has many of the social instincts of the pacifistic bonobo. Lucy’s creator and genetic father intended her to be the mother of a better breed of humans, but after his death, she’s just trying to pass as a typical student in a Chicago suburb after life in the African jungle. But it’s only a matter of time before Lucy’s secret gets out.
Knopf. 320 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 9780307272607

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"Laurence Gonzales, whose last best-seller was 2005’s Deep Survival, is clearly a genetic hybrid too: He’s Michael Crichton, with one or two strands of Cormac McCarthy’s DNA. He’s got Crichton’s gift for page-turning storytelling, but also a vivid, literary-grade prose style, and a knack for getting inside his characters’ heads." Benjamin Svetkey

Chicago Sun-Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[Lucy, Amanda, Jenny, and other characters are] almost too lovely, borderline one-dimensional, and so when the bad guys show up--right-wing zealots and mad-scientist types--they’re caricature evil. ... It’s not classified as a young adult novel, but it could easily become a YA hit as well as a best-seller in the general fiction market." Teresa Budasi

Chicago Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[Gonzales’] book is provocative rather than deeply reflective. Our sympathies are entirely with Lucy, whose animal characteristics are strictly behavioral; the author asks no uncomfortable questions about the nature of consciousness. ... Yet it also raises disquieting political and moral dilemmas not easily resolved." Wendy Smith

New York Times 2 of 5 Stars
"The clever ending Mr. Gonzales has come up with for Lucy marks a complete departure from the Frankenstein template, and it’s oddly satisfying on an emotional level. Even so, it’s not enough to make up for all the careless writing and absurd plot shenanigans that have gone before." Michiko Kakutani

Critical Summary

Some of the characters in Lucy view the genetically engineered protagonist as likable, interesting, and genuinely "human." Others view her as a soulless hybrid. Critics were similarly divided on Gonzales’ novel, though they generally recommended it. Every review cited the book’s resemblance to Frankenstein and the works of Michael Crichton, and a few even felt that Gonzales was ready to occupy the late science fiction author’s empty niche in the ecology of contemporary letters. The New York Times, however, in the minority, saw Lucy as a cheap and implausible imitation of these evolutionary predecessors.