Give Me Your Hand
“This Shakespearean noir of female intimacy and violence is rich, provocative, and memorable.”
Kit Owens is “the dutiful worker bee” of her research lab. Ever since high school, she has kept her head down and stayed focused on the future she wants. Now she’s first in line to be chosen for a prestigious and glamorous project in researching PMDD, a hormonal disorder that could be the hidden cause of some women’s misery and violence.
Kit thinks she understands both. Years ago, her friend Diane Fleming burdened her with a terrible secret, and since then Kit has lived in its shadow. Diane taught Kit how to strive, but she also taught her the darkness of the human heart. Kit’s forgotten neither.
Then Diane suddenly reappears to work side by side with Kit in the lab. She’s been specially recruited by Kit’s brilliant, unreadable boss, Dr. Severin, and Kit fears losing her spot on the project just as much as she fears losing her composure.
Long-time fans of Abbott will be familiar with her skill at creating an atmosphere of simmering intensity, envy, jealousy, fear, and obsession: The tension in Give Me Your Hand is at times unbearable. It’s heightened even more by Abbott’s precise and detailed rendering of Kit’s scientific environment.
The surface of the lab is ruled by logic, but there’s turmoil underneath it. Tumorous mice, “mutts,” cross over from a nearby restaurant and fall through the lab’s ceiling, living contaminants. Hate festers beneath collegiality. People grow careless, even knowing that inattention can lead to disaster.
It’s a hard place to be a woman. Kit matter-of-factly accepts that there’s very little chance Dr. Severin will fill her two lab spots with two women, even as her male coworkers brood on the thought that Kit’s womanhood might give her an edge in promotion on PMDD. Advancement is dependent upon unbelievable skill, unbelievably hard work, active mentorship, and some indefinable X factor. It’s all cutthroat enough to more than earn all the novel’s Macbeth allusions.
“It’s just nature,” Kit says. “Put animals in a small, closed space, and the one with the sharpest nails, the pointiest teeth wins. . . . it’s best never to let them see your teeth.”
Like many Abbott protagonists, Kit is the compromised and unreliable narrator of another woman’s shining and ambiguous extremes. Diane earns her fear and awe. Even as a girl, she was remarkably self-contained, but as a woman, “she’s like a saint mortified . . . cheekbones and jaw both knife sharp, and you can see her skull; you can see everything, maybe even her wormy black brain.”
The novel’s feverish quality makes Kit’s eventual breaking point suitably and compellingly nightmarish, something accentuated by the Diabolique homage that flits around in the novel’s final chapters. That doesn’t always work well when more mundane realism—like the process of a police investigation—is added in, which means there are one or two purely procedural details that strain credulity.
But this slight awkwardness is a small price to pay for the scope and overall success of Abbott’s ambitions. What Give Me Your Hand gets it as nothing less than the way we construct our lives. Diane tells Kit, “My mom always says, you don’t have a self until you have a secret.” If that’s true, everyone in this novel has a self.
As Diane says of Hamlet, “You know, none of these characters are real.” But she’s trying to convince herself of it: it doesn’t feel true to her. She and Kit have that same vitality.
This Shakespearean noir of female intimacy and violence is rich, provocative, and memorable. The specificity of the scientific milieu lends Give Me Your Hand a vivid contemporary stage for the playing-out of its primitive, universal conflicts of guilt and ambition. It’s a potent combination that will linger long after the reader has put the book aside.