The Atheist and the Parrotfish
Author Richard Barager certainly knows from whence he speaks in his novel The Atheist and the Parrotfish. Like his protagonist, Cullen Brodie, he is also a nephrologist, treating dialysis patients and kidney transplant recipients. It should be no surprise that, given the similarities between author and creation, Brodie is an entirely believable and deep character. What may be a bit surprising is the gentleness and honesty with which Barager paints the character of Ennis, the cross-dressing heart/kidney transplant recipient.
Being a transplant surgeon must be fraught with conflicting feelings. One person dies so another can have a new life. Imagine the intensity of these feelings when the surgeon knows the donor. Brodie, the atheist in the title, grapples with his own issues when it comes to religion but must accept that something altogether supernatural has occurred when Ennis begins to have feelings and cravings that are not his own but those of his donor, Carla, a young mother and wife. Brodie tries to reason his way through Ennis’s claims but in doing so must confront an event and people which have been haunting him for his entire adult life. Both Ennis and Brodie must learn to accept the past and move on in order to survive.
Though ultimately this is a story of one man’s conversion to Catholicism, it is not the kind of heavy-handed narrative one generally expects. Regardless of the reader’s religious persuasion, this novel will prove to be moving. When asked what doctors and authors have in common, Barager explained that both must understand the central character and that character’s story. This understanding is what makes this novel stand out. If the care that Barager shows in the creation of his characters is any indication of what kind of doctor he is, his patients must be truly lucky.