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Andrew's Brain by E. L. Doctorow

Andrew's Brain (2014)

by E. L. Doctorow

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I received this book through the early reviewers program, but only just got around to reading it this week. I'm really not sure what to make of it. I've read Ragtime and liked it, so I was expecting something similar from E.L. Doctorow. However, this is a very different book. Instead of a cast of characters, this book tells the story of just one: Andrew, a cognitive scientist. He recounts a difficult life in which he accidentally poisoned his young daughter, got divorced, lost his second wife on 9-11, and ends up working for the President. It's difficult to know which of these things are true. My best guess is that Andrew is a psych patient who has made up most of this story. Unfortunately, the truth is never revealed, which makes the book a very unrewarding read. I'm not sure if Andrew has a psychiatric illness or is just a weird, unlucky guy, but either way I didn't really like him all that much. ( )
  ahegge | Nov 25, 2014 |
One of my most painful to listen to audiobooks ever and it wasn't the narrator. The blurb says "we are led to question what we know about truth and memory, brain and mind, personality and fate, about one another and ourselves." and the book did none of this for me. It left me wanting to smack Andrew and his therapist. His story wasn't strange...it was quite ordinary; people have ups and downs all throughout life, not one person over the age of say, 30, hasn't suffered some sort of loss. What made Andrew different was his obsession with himself completely overshadowed any sign of compassion, if, he had any at all. It was all about him.

I grabbed this first because it was Doctorow and second because I have brain issues (AKA mental illnesses) of my own and thought that I would be able to relate or see my illnesses in a new way.
There was nothing, so much nothing that I NEVER write an actual review like this in any form on Goodreads. This is indeed a first.

I love Doctorow, but it was as if someone else was writing this or he was trying to be his own version of the hip navel gazing debut memoirs/novels that are trendy right now.

Someone very wise said "Stick with what you know." No idea whom, but Doctorow should have listened.
  ChewDigest | Sep 12, 2014 |
We're all Pretenders, Doctor, even you. Especially you. Why are you smiling? Pretending is the brain's work. It's what it does. The brain can even pretend not to be itself.

There has got to be someone somewhere that will love this book but unfortunately I am not that person. Immediately when I finished this I felt like writing a scathing review of it but after calming myself down I am just going to do a short (calm, and respectful) review for this quick read. This started off reading like my philosophy textbook from my college class that I took, then it read like a textbook on the human brain, and finally it was like reading a liberal anti George W. Bush speech. Quite frankly I am still baffled on how we managed to move from Andrew, the main character, being a professor and teaching these complex things to ending up at the White House. I just didn't know what to make of Andrew and did not like him ever while reading the book. This book was just frustrating throughout. Quite honestly, the best thing about this book is that it was short (oh geez, I am starting on my scathing review now). I can't even imagine who I would recommend this book to but it clearly was not meant for a person like me. ( )
  dpappas | Aug 20, 2014 |
No stars. Hated this!
1 vote Dianekeenoy | Jul 24, 2014 |
I listened to this audio in one sitting, trying to understand it. It was short, just over three hours. I replayed several parts over and over, trying to understand the point. I fear I missed some of it.
A man is speaking to what appears to be a psychiatrist, but could just as easily have been an imaginary friend, an alter ego, a prison guard, a lawyer, or himself. He is pretending, at first, to be speaking about a friend, but the reader quickly learns that it is Andrew, indeed, who is narrating.
Andrew, presumably, is an expert on the brain. He is well educated with a diploma from an Ivy League school, probably Yale, if the person he alludes to at the end as his roommate, was really the President of the United States, none other than “W”. The reader will wonder if he is sane, perhaps schizophrenic, out of touch with reality, or simply telling a bizarre tale based in reality. Without intending to, Andrew seems to unwittingly leave death and destruction in his wake, and he has naively brought the hammer down upon his own head, if he is telling the truth.
His character Andrew, tells his tale piece-meal and at times it sounds like half-truths. He has visions, hears voices and believes they are real or symbols representing reality. He speaks to this same character over a period of years, sometimes in different places, not in person, but by phone.
When tragedy strikes his world, Andrew and his wife, Martha, split up. Eventually, he falls in love again with one of his students, Briony, and he enjoys a loving relationship. When tragedy once again strikes him, on what the reader will assume is 9/11 from hints given, he resorts to previous behavior and runs away from responsibility. However, Andrew always seems to be an accident waiting to happen. When he walks his dog, it is captured by a hawk, when he goes sledding and a car avoids hitting him, it kills the driver instead. Everyone he seems to interact with is dysfunctional in some way or in some way suffers from something extraordinary.
While the surface novel is simple: man suffers and man makes mistakes and man pays for his mistakes, real or imaginary, physically, psychologically, emotionally or mentally, there seems to be a more profound meaning. The reader simply has to discover it. Is Andrew often misjudged or is he living in an alternate universe? Did the stories he relates really take place or are they figments of his imagination? Where is Andrew in the end? Is he a prisoner? Is he a free man? Is he an enemy combatant?
Although he does not name President Bush and his staff by name, it is obvious that he is referring to Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, and he dislikes them, disrespects them, believes they are ill-prepared and inept at their jobs, and that they betray him, in the end, causing his imprisonment as if he had been nothing but a plaything. In fact, I thought the author’s portrayal was a bit insulting, and I don’t believe he would portray the current President in that same way, though he could well have, since the book was published in 2013, well into the current President’s service. An author who has a main character who is an academic, can safely be assumed to most likely be liberal in his beliefs, so once again, an author has taken the opportunity, or the liberty, to use his bully pulpit to put forth his own one-sided political views, which I believe unfairly and incorrectly influences the readers and forces them to swallow the author’s bias without presenting both sides of the issue.
Be that as it may, Doctorow reads his book quite well, with expression, but his voice is gravelly, not resonant, and that made him sound a little tired and not quite that into the reading of it. It was interesting to try and figure out what was happening between the characters and guess the purpose of the conversations between the patient/client/doctor/attorney. ( )
1 vote thewanderingjew | Jun 4, 2014 |
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I can tell you about my friend Andrew, the cognitive scientist.
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A psychological tale recounts the experiences of Andrew, who confesses to an unknown recipient the memory- and truth-challenging events, loves, and tragedies that have led him to a mysterious act.

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