The Center of Thingsby Jenny McPhee
Doubleday, 248 pp., $22.95
The center of things, apparently, is both everywhere and nowhere at all, depending on which quantum mechanic you talk to. Marie Brown, a fact-checker and junior reporter for the Gotham City Star tabloid who happens to know quite a bit about physics, believes it's everywhere -- "the universe is homogeneous and isotropic, so that no matter where you are in it, it appears as if you are at the center," she explains -- and the months we spend with her in Jenny McPhee's strange and vibrant debut would seem to prove it. When legendary actor Nora Mars ("the girl next door gone awry") lapses into a coma, Marie convinces her editor to let her write the impending -- and potentially scandalous -- obituary. At the time, she is struggling to finish a philosophy of science paper she started 15 years ago at a grad school she no longer attends, estranged from her brother and best friend, and locked into a series of mind-boggling discussions with "freelance intellectual" Marco Trentadue during her frequent visits to the library. Oh, and she's searching for true love. McPhee, daughter of prolific and Pulitzer Prize-winning literary journalist John McPhee, depicts this metaphysical confluence with a poised raillery that redefines the term "science fiction."