The DNA of You and Me by Andrea Rothman


The DNA of You and Me

by Andrea Rothman
March 12, 2019 · William Morrow
Literary Fiction

The DNA of You and Me might just as well be called “False Equivalency: The Novel.” The description on the inside front cover leads the reader to suppose that the book is about the career choices that women have to make, especially between love and work. However, the book is actually about an obsessed woman in an emotionally abusive relationship who has to decide whether to stay in the abusive relationship or stay at a research lab. I found this book to be ableist, depressing, and infuriating.

TW/CW AHEAD for emotional abuse, ableism, animal experimentation and death, and general gross dysfunction. Also spoilers. I’m just going to spoil the whole book, OK?

Here goes.

Emily is obsessed with learning how smell works. She gets a job at the lab at American University of Science Research, but her project competes with a similar project that is being conducted by, Aeden and Allegra, who have already been working on it at that lab for three years. The atmosphere is hostile. Emily falls in love with Aeden, despite his remarkable lack of any attractive traits. Eventually the lab’s evil boss has the competing projects are merge under Emily’s direction. Emily allows Allegra to be laid off without defending her, but she promises that the project will include Aeden’s name on the report as well as her own. She doesn’t do any of this because it’s ethically right or wrong. She does it, she tells Aeden, because “I just wanted to be with you.”

This initiates a period of time during which Aeden has intercourse with Emily all over the lab but will not kiss her or talk to her. In at least case this involves dubious consent at best. Eventually Aeden and Emily begin a real relationship, but when Emily meets Aeden’s family, Aeden’s mom tries to convince Aeden that Emily has an unnamed disorder (presumably autism) and that “People like her don’t need other people” and “She’s incapable of love.”

Fuck you, Aeden’s mom for being unbelievably ignorant, and Fuck You, Aeden for letting her get away with it, and while we are at it, I still say Fuck you, Emily for throwing Allegra under the bus and Fuck all of you for killing all those specially bred mice, and obviously Fuck You Evil Boss for fostering this toxic workplace in the first place.

Then Emily decides to follow Aeden to another lab in another part of the country (a move he mentioned for the first time in front of his family, putting Emily on the spot). Emily decides not to go with him, then she decides she will, then she finds out that he has falsified her research results as a way to manipulate her into joining him, so she says no.

This is not choosing career over love. This is choosing not to be with an emotionally abusive, corrupt scientist who falsifies your results. How could you possibly build a life with this asshole? It has nothing to do with choosing career versus love, because there’s no love. I’m not convinced that Emily loves Aeden – I think it’s more of a painful, obsessive crush. And I’m absolutely positive that Aeden, that lying, cheating (for sure with the research and possibly with another woman), manipulative, controlling asshole is not in love with anyone other than his own self. There is no scenario in which following Aeden anywhere would be a good idea. Ever.

Women in STEM fields do face incredible obstacles and pressures with regard to having relationships and with regard to having children. Those issues greatly impact gender equality in STEM and deserve to be addressed. However, while The DNA of You and Memay claim to address these issues, the only possibility of a relationship is so abusive that it undermines any actual conversation about things like the ethics of interoffice dating, or how to date outside the lab if you are always at work, or sexual harassment, or being pregnant in a lab (often discouraged for both safety and cultural reasons), or trying to arrange family leave in an unsupportive field.

Meanwhile, there’s the ableism aspect. Emily never has an actual diagnosis. She is socially awkward and odd with people, but since she narrates the book we know that she is capable of love, or at least an obsessive crush, and that she does want people in her life. The last page of the book presents a hopeful outlook on her ability to have relationships, but it’s the LAST PAGE. While the character disagrees with Aeden’s mom’s outlook, she also seems miserable all the time. Whatever disorder Emily may or may not have, it’s not explored in the context of how good her ability to focus makes her at her job, or in any other positive way. Emily is presented as a tragic figure who can’t make friends and can’t have good relationships right up until that hopeful last page.

There are some well done aspects to this book. The portrayal of the messy (literally and figuratively) process of scientific research felt authentic. In the movies, science involves cool stuff and maybe some explosions and a “Eureka!” moment. In this book, which I suspect is accurate, research is tedious. It involves a lot of waiting for things to happen and then brutal work hours when that something finally does happen and then more waiting. Emily’s job is to stare at small, blurry lines on a screen, in a cubicle, all day, every day. There are some idealistic motivations at work, but the lab needs money and money is king. The scientists compete against each other and the lab owners compete against other labs for dollars and for prestige. A lot of very cute mice are decapitated. It’s likeOffice Space, only with animal cruelty instead of humor and rebellion.

I label the above as “good” despite it not being pleasant because I suspect that work in a lot of labs, maybe most, is like this, and I think it’s a good thing to see how mundane research can be as opposed to always getting a glamorized version. It also shows how important research can be thrown off course by money, not just by funding or lack of funding in general, but by cutting corners in hopes of being the first to publish results while trimming expenses.

Also, I not only finished the book, which I don’t always do, but I finished it fast. Somehow I must have gotten invested in this story. I don’t know why. I don’t know what I hoped for. But I felt compelled to read it, and the worse things got the more compelled to read it I became. I have to give props to the story for keeping my interest.

A false equivalency is, according to Wikipedia, “a logical fallacy in which two opposing arguments appear to be logically equivalent when in fact they are not.” This book creates a false equivalency by suggesting that Emily’s dilemma with regard to following Aeden out of town or sticking to her experiment is the same as the dilemma of women who struggle to balance career and family. It’s a false equivalency because Emily’s choice is between abuse and career, not family and career. Even I, who have very little career ambition but have been quite happy as a stay at home/work from home mom, would not follow Aeden as far as the office vending machine, let alone to a cosy house in the suburbs where he plans to have two children and a dog. It’s a damaging false equivalency because it fails to explore two very real problems – emotional abuse and the real struggles facing women in the workplace in general and in STEM fields in particular.

Because of the positive qualities I mentioned, I’m giving this book a D+ instead of a D, but I felt that the entire story was based on false equivalencies, a failure to confront Aeden’s abusive nature, and a worn out, tragic “smart girls can’t have good relationships” storyline that was subverted too late in the game to offset its damaging assumptions. I felt compelled to read it, but at the same time it made me feel dirty. It’s sad and it’s emotionally gross and it’s frustrating. I’m angry AND disappointed.

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