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Andrew's Brain by E.L. Doctorow

Published on Monday, December 21, 2015

Andrew's Brain by E.L. Doctorow

Weird & Wonderful

Andrew is a cognitive scientist, in other words, he studies all mental abilities – thinking, knowledge, memory, judgment, problem solving, decision making, comprehension, production of language, intuition, and so forth.  He is, at once, comical, brilliant, possibly out of his mind, at the very least, too much inside his mind, maybe even a prisoner of his mind – it’s hard to say.  Maybe he’s just doing what he’s trained to do.  One thing is clear - Andrew’s life story seems to be one nasty accident after another. Andrew is mostly blameless, but he’s not really harmless either, given that he’s such a lightning rod for calamity. 

Andrew tells his story through some sort of interlocutor named “Doc.”   The reader assumes that “Doc” is a psychiatrist who is listening to his patient.  But there’s also the possibility that Andrew is telling his story to an imaginary listener.  He seems to have more than one voice – as we all do – one internal and one external.  But in Andrew’s case, we hear both.  Is he having conversations with himself?  It occurred to me that Andrew may even be the voice of the author himself, coaxing a story out of the character he’s creating - “Doc”, as in “Doctorow”.

As in all his books, Doctorow brings some true history and true historical characters to the story.  In this case, toward the end of the book, some of the major players of the George W. Bush administration where, to their great discomfort, Andrew puts them under the microscope of a scientist and makes fools of them.  Turns out these are not men to be messed with.

If it sounds like this book was a bit of a puzzle to me, that’s because it was.  But I’m glad I read it because Doctorow’s writing is so superb.  In any case, this was E.L. Doctorow’s last book, as he passed away this past summer.  So, I hope people will pay homage to one of America’s great contemporary authors by reading Andrew’s Brain. 

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