Wednesday, June 18, 2014

ANDREW'S BRAIN by E.L. Doctorow

Andrew is a cognitive scientist who seems to attract serious misfortune.  He accidentally killed his first child, and his wife Martha divorced him over this mistake.  His second wife Briony dies, and he feels indirectly responsible for her death as well, although I’m not really sure why.  In fact, there are aspects of this book that I don’t understand.  Before Briony’s unfortunate demise, she gave birth to a daughter, Willa, and Andrew delivers her to Martha, partly as a replacement for the child they lost and partly because he doesn’t trust himself to take care of another infant.  Andrew at times speaks of himself in first person and then wanders into third person, as he tells his story to someone he calls Doc, who tries to keep Andrew on topic.  Like The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the book’s structure is that of one long conversation, with periodic ramblings on Andrew’s part.  Many passages are a bit too cerebral for me, especially as Andrew waxes eloquent about the brain versus the mind and the possibility of technology ever duplicating brain function.  Andrew asks Doc an important question near the end of the book, to which Doc replies in the negative, but I’m unable to determine if there’s some sort of subterfuge on Doc’s part.  I do know that the author skewers George W. Bush, thinly disguised, and his advisers, nicknamed Chaingang and Rumdum, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack.  (Who is Peachums?)  This section is perversely funny, if you can get past the fact that it’s a little disturbing, not to mention way out in left field.  The author drops hints everywhere about Andrew’s true self, including his self-proclaimed lack of remorse or feeling and the President’s nickname for him, but, again, I don’t know how to interpret these clues or even if interpretation is warranted.  Understanding a book is not always a prerequisite for enjoyment, but it helps.

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