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Making waves

Imperfect Solitude by Tom Mahony

Steve Caplan 9 January 2011

Overwhelmed: will temptation triumph?

Science may be absolute, but the novel shows how easy it is to pervert the truth

Tom Mahony’s Imperfect Solitude is a compelling debut novel depicting the trials and tribulations of a young field biologist recently recruited to a biological consulting company in the San Francisco Bay area. Evan Nellis, the unlikely hero of this story, undergoes major transformations in the course of the novel. Initially broke and living out of his old station wagon, new circumstances and enticements at work catalyze Evan’s morphogenesis into a playboy who rubs noses with the bigwigs. But is Evan any happier with his free-wheeling lifestyle?

Evan Nellis is a realistic character, likeable overall, but sometimes rather exasperating. While Evan’s character weaknesses enhance the credibility of the story, there are sections where the reader would like deliver him a good swift kick to shake him out of his bubble. Some of the realism is derived from Evan’s rather polarized character. For one, he has a very dichotomous and conflicting approach towards with the parcel of land that has been held by his family for several generations. His practical side is eager to sell it, while he secretly harbors reservations about unloading the family inheritance. Another example of Evan’s inner conflicts is that on the one hands he shows disdain for his girlfriend’s meditation practices—yet at the same time derives his own sustenance from his surfing, which apparently serves his own personal form of meditation.

As a landlocked Nebraskan who gets seasick watching fluorescent cells roll by under the microscope, I was still able to fully appreciate the well-described surfing passages. I suspect, however, that anyone with even a modest affinity for the ocean, and particularly anyone with a passion for surfing, will be enthralled by these scenes.

While the storyline does not go into excessive detail about the science involved in biological consulting, the author does project an atmosphere that does allow the reader a glimpse into this world—again presenting a polarized picture of natural beauty pitted against the quagmire of corruption.

This novel touches on the morality of science, and illustrates how easy it can be misrepresented; science and truth may be absolute, but since mortal humans are the ones charged with writing, reporting and interpreting the science, Imperfect Solitude shows how easy it is to pervert the truth, especially when greed is a motivating factor. Overall, Imperfect Solitude is an interesting book with realistic characters and an exciting climax in which we learn whether Evan Nellis’ moral fiber is capable of riding the waves and standing tall.

Related information:

Read an extract of the novel on