Saturday, August 30, 2014

Andrew's Brain, by E.L. Doctorow

Just today, E.L. Doctorow was awarded the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. I am thinking, however, that Andrew's Brain was not a big factor in his winning the award. Although the narration is sometimes third person and sometimes first, the book is apparently presented as a conversation between Andrew, a middle-aged brain scientist and his therapist, who may or may not be a government psychiatrist at a facility to which Andrew may or may not have been committed (I know there's a lot of uncertainty in this sentence, but that's how it was for me).

Andrew's life has provided plenty of material for him to relate to a therapist: he accidentally killed his first child by feeding the baby the wrong prescription (the pharmacist's mistake), his career has never really taken off, his second wife was killed in the 9/11 attacks, he has given his second child to his first wife to raise because he feels unable to care for her after her mother's death, etc. At the same time, his story has almost slapstick elements:  His second wife's parents were little people, which the author plays for laughs, albeit briefly. A longer section near the end of the book is devoted to the fact that George W. Bush was his college roommate; when the two meet by chance, Bush offers him a White House job that allows Doctorow to poke fun at Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney.

For me, the book just did not add up to anything, and the attempts at humor were tired and out of place. To make matters worse, I listened to the audio version, which was read by the author himself in what my son described as a "mopey" voice. Not recommended.

Favorite passage:
How can I think about my brain when it's my brain doing the thinking? So is this brain pretending to be me thinking about it?

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