Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Mindgames in the Oddball 'Andrew's Brain,' Doctorow Moves from an Apparent Therapy Session to a Satire of the George W. Bush Presidency

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Mindgames in the Oddball 'Andrew's Brain,' Doctorow Moves from an Apparent Therapy Session to a Satire of the George W. Bush Presidency

Article excerpt

"ANDREW'S BRAIN"

By E.L. Doctorow.

Random House ($26).

According to The New York Times, E.L. Doctorow has been in "the first rank of American writers" since the publication of his 1971 novel, "The Book of Daniel," a fictionalized treatment of the trial and execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. Mr. Doctorow's enduring interest in American history is on vivid display in his latest novel, "Andrew's Brain," which is part science lecture, part parable and part slyly oblique satire of George W. Bush's presidency.

Written in the form of an ongoing dialogue between "Andrew" -- a mysterious narrator who shifts back and forth between the first and third person in relating the events of his own life -- and someone Andrew calls "Doc," it's an odd little experiment of a book.

Describing himself as a cognitive scientist, Andrew holds forth on a variety of topics, including but not limited to the human brain and its properties; his first wife, Martha; his teaching career; his second wife, Briony; his two doomed daughters, one from each marriage; Mark Twain; the attacks of 9/11; the New York marathon; California; little people; the war on terror; and artificial intelligence.

By turns bitter, dark, funny, frightening, tragic and eerie, these linked disquisitions are the meat of the book. What is going on inside of Andrew's brain? Where is he? Who is he? With whom is he speaking? Is "Doc" real?

"Writing is like talking to yourself," Andrew observes at one point, "which I have been doing with you all along anyway, Doc." And who, after all, are we, the readers? Are we confessors? Witnesses? Voyeurs? These are compelling enough questions to arouse the curiosity of any reader with an interest in ontology or epistemology.

The introduction of his sinister advisers, saddled by their overgrown frat boy of a boss with the undignified nicknames of "Chaingang" and "Rumbum," is the biggest clue to the unnamed but frequently invoked president's identity. …

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