Thursday, June 23, 2016

THE MAN WITHOUT A SHADOW






The Man Without a Shadow, Joyce Carol Oates, HarperCollins Publishers, 2016, 369 pp
 
 
 Summary from Goodreads: In 1965, neuroscientist Margot Sharpe meets Elihu Hoopes: the “man without a shadow,” who will be known, in time, as the most-studied and most famous amnesiac in history. A vicious infection has clouded anything beyond the last seventy seconds just beyond the fog of memory.

Over the course of thirty years, the two embark on mirrored journeys of self-discovery: Margot, enthralled by her charming, mysterious, and deeply lonely patient, as well as her officious supervisor, attempts to unlock Eli’s shuttered memories of a childhood trauma without losing her own sense of self in the process. Made vivid by Oates’ usual eye for detail, and searing insight into the human psyche, The Man Without a Shadow is eerie, ambitious, and structurally complex, unique among her novels for its intimate portrayal of a forbidden relationship that can never be publicly revealed.
 
 
My Review:
I wouldn't say this was my favorite JCO novel but it was surely the most interesting. 
 
Elihu Hoopes is an amnesiac whose short term memory only goes back 70 seconds. Margot Sharpe is beginning graduate school and has been accepted into the neuropsychology program headed by Milton Ferris, a harsh taskmaster but also a brilliant neuroscientist, headed for a Nobel Prize. Both Ferris and Margot go on to make their names because of Project E H.
 
First paragraph: "Notes on Amnesia: Project 'E H' (1965-1996)
She meets him, she falls in love. He forgets her.
She meets him, she falls in love. He forgets her.
She meets him, she falls in love. He forgets her.
At last she says goodbye to him, thirty-one years after they've first met. On his deathbed, he has forgotten her."
 
That is a synopsis of the novel but everything that happens between those lines is what makes the story. Every time Margot comes to work with Elihu, he is meeting her for the fist time as far as he can remember. Over the thirty-one years, Margot falls in love with E H, he becomes her entire life, and she (secretly) takes the lab protocol quite a ways beyond professional limits.

Dr Ferris's team, but especially Margot, make huge advances in the understanding of amnesia, the brain, and the psychology of memory, but Margot lives under the constant stress of being found out concerning some of her methods.

Elihu also has disturbing memories from his childhood, full of guilt and fear over the death by drowning of his favorite cousin when he was only 5 years old.

The novel is full of tension, mystery, and the psychology of love as well as the psychology of psychologists. Only Joyce Carol Oates could have written it. I was left aghast at the end. What a read! Two of my reading groups have selected the book for this summer. One has met and we could not stop discussing!


(The Man Without a Shadow is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

6 comments:

  1. It sounds quite unusual -- perfect for JOC. And good for a book group apparently. I will keep in mind for my group, currently on summer hiatus. thx

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    1. Great discussion book. I almost wish my groups went on summer hiatus, but they are still leading me to some great reads.

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  2. Sounds like a great read.

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  3. Sounds like a very good book :)

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    1. Especially if you are interested in brain science.

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