By E. L. Doctorow
Random House January 2014
From the library
This slim novel is, as the title might suggest, the story of Andrew. He narrates his history to an unknown listener (at least for the first part of the book). While some parts of his life have been very normal, such as college, falling in love, and becoming a father; Andrew is unable to escape the possibility that he is responsible for the tragedies that seem to follow him wherever he goes.
Doctorow is considered one of our great living writers, for very good reasons. His sweeping epics such as Ragtime and March show us both the grand panoramas of history and the intimate lives of some fascinating historical figures. In his newest book, he has moved to a much smaller view, as we reside inside the brain of one man. This book goes this way and that as Andrew is insistent on telling his story in his own way, much to the chagrin of the person listening who insists on peppering his account with questions.
Andrew's Brain reminded me of two other books I recently finished - The Rosie Project and Coincidence. The first deals with a man who realizes that he is not quite like everyone else. In this story, Andrew has a similar sense of being apart from people. The second book was about the possibility of controlling our destiny. Andrew seems to be at the center of tragedy. Over the years, he has lost two wives, two children, and a promising career in cognitive science. His suspicion that his very love for these people and things is what leads to their downfall is crushing to him, and to us as readers.
This novel is somehow too long and not long enough. Towards the end, Andrew embarks on a new career path which seems more like Doctorow's attempt to get a few good zingers in regarding one of our recent presidents than a coherent part of the story. But, on the other hand, I found myself caring for Andrew. I wanted both for him to share more of his past and to find some closure in the present. There is no doubt that Mr. Doctorow is a deeply talented author. He can create a beautiful, precise phrase with the best of modern writers. Andrew's Brain will not be my favorite of his novels, but I am interested to see if this is the beginning of a new kind of story from an incredible writer.