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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

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Visible Empire
Hannah Pittard
The Deptford Trilogy
Robertson Davies
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Andrew's Brain

Andrew's Brain - E.L. Doctorow

E.L. Doctorow has been on my radar for years. The problem has been deciding what book of his to read. Ragtime has come highly recommended. So has The World's Fair. And The March looks fabulous as well. I didn't mean to take so long to decide—I've been sitting on a copy of all three of these novels for years. Leave it to receiving an Advanced Reader's copy from the publisher to force my hand. My first Doctorow wouldn't be any of these, it would be his latest, Andrew's Brain; and though I'm obviously not familiar with Doctorow's catalog of books, I'm going to venture a guess this will not be one of his more famous works.


Andrew's Brain is a story about Andrew's brain. Andrew is a cognitive scientist, a man obsessed with the mind. The entire story is Andrew's narration of his life as told to a therapist. Our narrator is unreliable, but his stories are entertaining.


There are many indicators that this entire novel is one complex allegory. The allegory seems to be about America, but whether its intended focus is political, cultural, or historical is hard to pinpoint without knowing every nuance of the allegory (though I would venture to guess it's political). And, of course, I could be completely off on this belief. Perhaps there is no allegory at all.


Nevertheless, Andrew's Brain is a fun read and, as you'd expect from an author as seasoned as Doctorow, is written very well. At times, it led me to wonder if this was not a reflection of the author's own experience in some regard, leaving me with a sense that Doctorow perhaps intends to retire after this piece. But I speculate too much. Truth is, I don't know. This is that sort of book that leaves the reader with feelings of uncertainty. Did that happen? Did any of it? What does it all mean? Because of these questions, longtime fans may love this one, but newcomers should probably start with something less ambiguous.