Eileen Pollack

Longtime professor and former director of the Helen Zell MFA Program at the University of Michigan, Eileen Pollack holds a BS in physics from Yale and an MFA in Fiction from the Iowa Writers Workshop. She has received fellowships from the NEA Michener foundation and Rona Jaffe Foundation. Her work was included in The Best American Short Stories 2007 edited by Stephen King and The Best American Essays 2013 edited by Cheryl Strayed. She is the award-winning author of a story collection, a novel, and a work of creative non-fiction, all published by small presses. Visit her website here.

 
 
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A PERFECT LIFE (2016) 

A luminous and insightful novel that considers the moral complexities of scientific discovery and the sustaining nature of love. A young researcher at MIT, Jane Weiss is obsessed with finding the genetic marker for Valentine’s Disease, a neurodegenerative disorder. Her pursuit is deeply personal—Valentine’s killed her mother, and she and her freewheeling sister, Laurel, could be genetic carriers; each has a fifty percent chance of developing the disease. Having seen firsthand the devastating effect Valentine’s had on her parents’ marriage, Jane is terrified she might become a burden on whomever she falls in love with and so steers clear of romantic entanglement. Then, the summer before her father’s second wedding, Jane falls hard for her future stepbrother, Willie. But Willie’s father also died from Valentine’s, raising the odds that their love will end in tragedy.

When Willie bolts at a crucial moment in their relationship, Jane becomes obsessed with finding the genetic marker to the disease that threatens both their families. But if she succeeds in making history, will she and her sister have the courage to face the truth this newfound knowledge could hold for their lives? A Perfect Life is a novel of scientific and self discovery, about learning how to embrace life and love, no matter what may come. Eileen Pollack conjures a thought-provoking, emotionally resonant story of one woman’s brilliance and bravery as she confronts her deepest fears and desires—and comes to accept the inevitable and the unexpected.

A Perfect Life is novel about nothing short of what it means to live and love in this world.  Out the most basic building blocks of the universe, Pollack–with incredible wisdom, emotional subtlety, and a scientist’s unflinching eye combined with a lover’s determined passion–has written not only an important book, but a wildly absorbing one.  There’s nothing more to be asked of a novel than what’s delivered here:  suspense, desire, a glimpse into a world few ever see–and, because of this writer’s gifts, the opportunity to live in it for a while, to be a part of history-in-the-making in that place and time, and to experience and understand all of its implications. A Perfect Life offers that rare gift of the best literature.  The reader looks up after the last sentence with a new appreciation for and understanding of the world in which she’s living.” –Laura Kasischke, author of The Life Before Her Eyes

A Perfect Life probes how we live in the face of uncertainty and the ways risk can both disable and empower us. In her latest novel, Eileen Pollack has crafted a tender exploration of family love that is as smart and thought-provoking as it is moving.”—Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You

“A tense scientific mystery propels this gripping novel, but what resonates most powerfully are the keenly-observed discoveries Jane makes about even deeper mysteries: the risks and pleasures of being human, and the nuances--as well as the costs--of love.”—Kim Edwards, author of The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

“Pollack expertly and sensitively focuses on the nuances of ambivalence and on the human dilemma of what to do in the complex ethical situations that arise from genetic research.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Eileen Pollack’s highly compelling new novel takes on searing questions of fate and family.”—Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife and Circling the Sun

“[An] intimate portrait of scientists engaged in research with the potential to change all our lives-and equally engaged in relationships that change their own lives. A Perfect Life fascinates on many levels.”—Andrea Barrett, author of Ship Fever and Servants of the Map

“Out of the most basic building blocks of the universe, Pollack--with incredible wisdom, emotional subtlety, and a scientist’s unflinching eye combined with a lover’s determined passion--has written not only an important book, but a wildly absorbing one.”—Laura Kasischke, author of In a Perfect World

“[An] absorbing genetic mystery that is couched in a complicated love story and a tale of survival... Pollack’s combination of gritty romance and medical suspense will have readers thinking about mortality and the bonds of family long after finishing.”—Publishers Weekly

Rights: Ecco, North American

 
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THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE ROOM: WHY SCIENCE IS STILL A BOY’S CLUB (2015)

A bracingly honest exploration of why there are still so few women in the hard sciences, mathematics, engineering, and computer science
 
In 2005, when Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard, asked why so few women, even today, achieve tenured positions in the hard sciences, Eileen Pollack set out to find the answer. A successful fiction writer, Pollack had grown up in the 1960s and ’70s dreaming of a career as a theoretical astrophysicist. Denied the chance to take advanced courses in science and math, she nonetheless made her way to Yale. There, despite finding herself far behind the men in her classes, she went on to graduate summa cum laude, with honors, as one of the university’s first two women to earn a bachelor of science degree in physics. And yet, isolated, lacking in confidence, starved for encouragement, she abandoned her ambition to become a physicist.

Years later, spurred by the suggestion that innate differences in scientific and mathematical aptitude might account for the dearth of tenured female faculty at Summer’s institution, Pollack thought back on her own experiences and wondered what, if anything, had changed in the intervening decades.

Based on six years interviewing her former teachers and classmates, as well as dozens of other women who had dropped out before completing their degrees in science or found their careers less rewarding than they had hoped, The Only Woman in the Room is a bracingly honest, no-holds-barred examination of the social, interpersonal, and institutional barriers confronting women—and minorities—in the STEM fields. This frankly personal and informed book reflects on women’s experiences in a way that simple data can’t, documenting not only the more blatant bias of another era but all the subtle disincentives women in the sciences still face.

The Only Woman in the Room shows us the struggles women in the sciences have been hesitant to admit, and provides hope for changing attitudes and behaviors in ways that could bring far more women into fields in which even today they remain seriously underrepresented.

Named one of the notable nonfiction books of 2015 by The Washington Post

"Hard-hitting, difficult to read, and impossible to put down.”Kirkus Reviews

“Honest, readable, and brave.”Library Journal

“Offering an engrossing look at the barriers still facing women in science...Pollack draws attention to this important and vexing problem with a personal narrative, beautifully written and full of important insights on the changes needed to make those barriers crumble...Any young woman or man on the way to college to major in science will find great lessons in this book.”Washington Post

“Her memoir rings authentic, its lessons essential. A bitter pill to swallow but a vital addition to the important and frustratingly ongoing discussion about gender equity.”—Poornima Apte, Booklist
 

Rights: Beacon Press, North American; Isae, Korea

 
 

THE BIBLE OF DIRTY JOKES (2018)

Ketzel Weinrach’s beloved brother, Potsie, has gone missing in Las Vegas. Recently widowed from Morty Tittelman, self-styled professor of dirty jokes and erotic folklore, Ketzel goes looking for Potsie. Her quest takes her back into her family’s shady past, uncovering ties to the Jewish mob as she comes face to face with a host of eccentric characters: cousin Perry, who runs a strip club on the outskirts of Vegas; Potsie’s showgirl wife, Sunshine Brite, and the five neurotic greyhounds she saved from a nearby track; Innocenzio Incognito, Potsie’s neighbor and the owner of a clandestine business trading Rat Pack artifacts, including Frank Sinatra’s sperm. “Everywhere is Vegas these days,” one character muses, and this novel explores the glitzy and kitschy, surface show and what lies beneath.

Seinfeld meets The Sopranos via Philip Roth and Grace Paley, The Bible of Dirty Jokes is a comic romp well aware that the flipside of comedy is tragedy, that laughter always happens at someone else’s expense. A perfect book for anyone who loved The Aristocrats, this novel is based on the true story of a real-life New York hotel and the Borscht Belt comedy scene. Even if there are no bodies buried under your tennis courts, the wincing self-realizations and the family secrets that won’t stay hidden are sure to resonate with you as you follow Ketzel, failed-stand-up comic turned amateur archaeologist, on her hunt for Potsie, her own repressed past, and the Murder, Inc. history no-one wanted to come up for air.

Rights: Four Way Books, North American