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The Diagnosis by Alan Lightman

The Diagnosis (2000)

by Alan Lightman

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I read this after having loved "Einstein's Dreams" for years. This did not live up to my hopes at all. The story was intriguing at first and as always Lightman's descriptive skills are pretty impressive but the story got rather mind numbing as it went along. My biggest issue with it however was his use of emails as part of the storyline. The email text and misspellings (though I understand they were part of the point he was making) were infuriating to try and read and I eventually gave up. ( )
  Clare.Davitt | Aug 5, 2013 |
Boring, disappointing, plodding. ( )
  sweetsimplicity | Oct 30, 2008 |
This books starts well, but drags as it goes along. I love the descriptions and satires of corporate life in metro-Boston. The email dialogue complete with misspellings is annoying. The scene with the debilitated father and anxious son is very close to the heart for me. ( )
  Othemts | Jul 9, 2008 |
Instead of “Death of a Salesman” it’s “Death of an Information Manager.” I confess that I did not care for it very much. Perhaps I see my own life reflected in the protagonists. I have read more than my share of depressing books lately, and this one starts bad and just gets worse, ending with the death of the protagonist. The author draws a parallel with the Greek who pushed for the execution of Socrates and his principal character. I don’t think he makes the case that well.

Another National Book Award finalist that I am not very impressed with.

www.samfsmith.com ( )
  samfsmith | Dec 11, 2007 |
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In memory of Jeanne Garretson Lightman and for Jean, Elyse and Kara
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People must have been in a great hurry, for no one noticed anything wrong with Bill Chalmers as he dashed from his automobile one fine summer morning.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375725504, Paperback)

In the bravura opening chapter of Alan Lightman's novel The Diagnosis, a nameless horror befalls Boston businessman Bill Chalmers in the hubbub of his morning commute. As he jostles his way aboard the train and makes cell-phone calls to check last-minute details on his morning meeting (for Bill is punctilious), a realization surfaces in his brain, "like a trapped bubble of air rising from the bottom of a deep pond." He has forgotten where he's going. All he can remember is his anxious urgency and his company's creed, "The maximum information in the minimum time." Acutely aware that he's got a 9:15 appointment, but recalling only the first six digits of his phone number, Bill helplessly gazes out the window. "Trees flew by like flailing arms.... Railroad tracks fluttered by like matchsticks. Trees, white and gray clapboard houses with paint peeling off, junkyards with stacks of flaccid tires." Lightman's Kafka pastiche is as pitch perfect as his verbal music: note the rhyming x sounds in stacks and flaccid (which is not pronounced "flassid").

Terrifyingly soon, Bill is mad, homeless, beaten, and experimented on by comically evil doctors. He recovers and reunites with his family, but inexorably, mysterious paralysis ensues. Doctors try to diagnose him. Coworkers offer empty condolences and plot to steal his fast-track job. His wife seeks consolation with a passionate virtual lover on the Internet, a professor she's never met in the flesh. His teenage son triumphantly hacks into AOL's Plato Online, and Bill's last days are counterpointed with the trial of Socrates and his troubled, rich inquisitor Anytus. Instead of the real story, we get a second shimmering Lightman fable. Anytus's strife with his rebel son, a Socrates supporter, parallels Bill's grief as his son is distanced from him by illness.

Though I felt glimmerings of understanding from time to time, I never did fully figure out exactly what the Socrates story and Bill's decline have to say about each other, nor what Bill's paralysis says about modern times. I implore a smarter reader to explain it to me in the customer comments below. But I can tell you that every character is resonant, and every sensory particular is exquisitely precise, as in Lightman's biggest hit, the Italo Calvino pastiche Einstein's Dreams. --Tim Appelo

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:28 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Bill remembers only one thing - "The Maximum Information in the Minimum Time" - his company's motto. But when his memory returns, it is accompanied by a numbness that gradually affects his entire body. As he chases down the elusive diagnosis of his illness, he descends into a Kafkaesque nightmare in which the more he discovers, the more he realizes what he has already lost.… (more)

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