Saturday, June 21, 2014

Andrew's Brain, by E.L. Doctorow

E.L. Doctorow. Andrew's Brain. New York: Random House, 2014. 200 pages. ISBN 9781400068814.

In Doctorow's latest, Andrew is engaged in a conversation with someone he calls "Doc." It's easy to assume that Doc is a psychiatrist or psychoanalyst, as he seems to be trying to draw Andrew out on his history and relationships. Andrew tells Doc about all the misfortunes of his life, including the accidental death of his first child, and the death of his second wife. To atone for the first child's death, he gives the baby from his second marriage to his first wife, who promptly disappears with the child and never gives him back.

It's hard to tell whether Andrew is telling the truth about himself or not. Sometimes the stories he tells are plausible, and other times I found his tales too tall to believe. It's clear that he doesn't have a firm grip on reality. Andrew tells of living an isolated existence, in which he's determined not to hurt anyone else. He devolves from a college professor to a high school science teacher, and it's while teaching that he's found by none other than George Bush, who's doing a photo op at the school. It turns out that Andrew was Bush's college roommate, and Bush offers him a job as an advisor in the White House. While there, his outlandish behavior results in his arrest by Homeland Secutiry as a threat to the United States. Presumably, he's been in a prison for years, where his interrogation by Doc is taking place.

I found this book to be very odd, but readable. I had no idea what was going on, what I was supposed to think about Andrew's stories, or what Doctorow is trying to say with this book. If it were much longer than 200 pages, I may not have made the effort, but it's short enough that it didn't get tedious. And yet I still don't know what to make of this book. Other reviews have been mixed, with many reviewers expressing disappointment with this book.

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