Andrea Barrett’s interest in the history of science is reflected in “The Behavior of the Hawkweeds,” a complex exploration of how the past is paralleled in the present. The story take place in several different time frames. The primary story focuses on the marriage of Antonia and Richard, who met in the late 1940’s when he was finishing his doctoral thesis. As a way to get him to love her, Antonia tells him a story about her grandfather’s personal relationship with Gregor Mendel, who she knows is Richard’s hero; she tells him how Mendel was disillusioned in his research by a disastrous suggestion made to him by the well-known botanist Carl Nägeli.
When Richard becomes a professor, he tells the story to his students to impress them, identifying with Mendel as being unappreciated and misunderstood. Antonia believes Richard muddles the story and that he is more like Nägeli than Mendel. In the 1970’s, when Richard invites Sebastian Dunitz, a bright young student scientist from Germany to come live with them, Antonia, bored with the tedium of her everyday life, is attracted to him. When he misunderstands her attraction as being sexual and rebuffs her, she calls him a German pig, the same name her grandfather called his boss when she was a child.
The second story is about Antonia’s experience when she was five and working with her grandfather Anton (who she calls Tati) in a nursery in Niskayuna, New York. One day her grandfather...
(The entire section is 415 words.)