Andrew’s Brain: A Novel
Andrew is a somber version of the dotty scientist archetype, whose absent-minded mishaps would be hilarious if they didn’t have disastrous consequences. Doctorow’s interest in neurotic or lacunary personalities (also pursued in his 2009 novel Homer & Langley, a text focused on hoarding disorder) bears further fruit in Andrew’s Brain. An early example in the novel sets the elegiac tone that dominates most of the book: Andrew fails to read the label on a bottle of mistakenly prescribed medicine and ends up poisoning his baby daughter by feeding her eye drops all night.
These tragic circumstances do not prevent Andrew’s tale from being told with great energy, humour and poetry. Doctorow’s style remains beautifully restrained, allowing flourishes to appear in all their fine evocativeness: a “calving iceberg” and “a brueghel of people” are two of my favourites. The novel ends on a thinly-veiled political satire of the post-9/11 era. It comes as an unexpected resolution to a family-oriented novel but works well, if somewhat eccentrically, nonetheless. Most reviewers have found Doctorow’s latest novel something of a conundrum, but with a title like Andrew’s Brain you could have expected a far more puzzling, labyrinthine narrative. The narrator begins by speaking of himself in the third person, and his interlocutor, called Doc (evoking the beginning of the author’s own name), is left mysteriously vague, but the reader quickly comes to fathom that Andrew is unraveling his life in a relatively sequential manner in front of a shrink. The narrative technique is just oblique enough to keep the reader guessing but steers clear of any radical postmodernist chronological and focal toing and froing. All in all, its verve and panache leave one with the satisfying feeling that this is a memorably intriguing novel.
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