Andrew's Brain: A Novel

By E.L. Doctorow
Binding:Hardcover
Publisher:Random House, (1/14/2014)
Language:English



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This brilliant new novel by an American master, the author of Ragtime, The Book of Daniel, Billy Bathgate, and The March, takes us on a radical trip into the mind of a man who, more than once in his life, has been the inadvertent agent of disaster.
 
Speaking from an unknown place and to an unknown interlocutor, Andrew is thinking, Andrew is talking, Andrew is telling the story of his life, his loves, and the tragedies that have led him to this place and point in time. And as he confesses, peeling back the layers of his strange story, we are led to question what we know about truth and memory, brain and mind, personality and fate, about one another and ourselves. Written with psychological depth and great lyrical precision, this suspenseful and groundbreaking novel delivers a voice for our times—funny, probing, skeptical, mischievous, profound. Andrew’s Brain is a surprising turn and a singular achievement in the canon of a writer whose prose has the power to create its own landscape, and whose great topic, in the words of Don DeLillo, is “the reach of American possibility, in which plain lives take on the cadences of history.”

Praise for Andrew’s Brain
 
Andrew’s Brain is cunning. . . . [A] sly book . . . This babbling Andrew is a casualty of his times, binding his wounds with thick wrappings of words, ideas, bits of story, whatever his spinning mind can unspool for him. . . . One of the things that makes [Andrew] such a terrific comic creation is that he’s both maddeningly self-delusive and scarily self-aware: He’s a fool, but he’s no innocent. . . . Andrew may not be able to enjoy his brain, but Doctorow, freely choosing to inhabit this character’s whirligig consciousness, can.”The New York Times Book Review
 
“[An] evocative, suspenseful novel about the deceptive nature of human consciousness.”More
 
“In stunning command of every aspect of this taut, unnerving, riddling tale, virtuoso Doctorow confronts the persistent mysteries of the mind—trauma and memory, denial and culpability—as he brings us back to one deeply scarring time of shock and lies, war and crime. Writing in concert with Twain, Poe, and Kafka, Doctorow distills his mastery of language, droll humor, well-primed imagination, and political outrage into an exquisitely disturbing, morally complex, tragic, yet darkly funny novel of the collective American unconscious and human nature in all its perplexing contrariness. Word will travel quickly about this intense and provocative novel by best-selling literary giant Doctorow.”Booklist (starred review)
 
“Through this dialectic narrative, Doctorow connects to the common theme seen throughout his work: one’s history is often a battle between memory and self-struggle to maintain an image of morality and adequacy. Doctorow deftly captures the complex but beautiful vagaries of life in clean, simple language.”Library Journal (starred review)
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"Andrew's Brain: A Novel"
By E.L. Doctorow

Average Rating:

This book has not been rated


The Gentleman
The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo

 
 
 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.
 
 
1. Near the beginning of the story, Andrew says that he is indirectly responsible for Briony’s death: “indirect—not directly causal.” How might he have reasoned that he was responsible for her death? Do you agree that Andrew ultimately has a hand in it, or not?

2. Andrew switches back and forth between telling the story in the first person and the third person, sometimes describing what happened to him, sometimes describing what happened to “Andrew.” Why might he do this switching back-and-forth? Did you notice any patterns in the moments at which Andrew switched from one form of narration to another?

3. In speaking to “Doc,” Andrew says, “Your field is the mind, mine is the brain.” What do you understand to be the difference between mind and brain, within the context of this book? Would the meaning of the title have changed for you, if it was called Andrew’s Mind instead of Andrew’s Brain?

4. Andrew says, “What else can we do as eaters of the fruit of knowledge but biologize ourselves?” Does the quest to “biologize ourselves” contain pitfalls or dangers? How might it relate to the tension, within the story, between the biology of the brain and the more intangible aspects of the mind?

5. Andrew describes the Wasatch mountains as ruling the town, as a “mountain bureaucracy” that negotiated the light and colonized the townspeople. Why might Andrew have decided to describe the mountains in such specific and unusual terms, as a “bureaucracy”? How might this connect with Andrew’s later experience with a different kind of bureaucracy in Washington, D.C.?

6. When Andrew connects Briony to the brain graph machine, he says, “I saw things more intimately Briony’s than if I had seen her undressed.” What does he mean by this? What are the implications of this “cephalic-invasive” voyeurism for Andrew and Briony’s relationship?

7. Mark Twain is a recurring motif in the book. Why do you think Andrew is so drawn to Twain? Think of when Andrew refers to the “imperial outrages annotated by MT in the last years of his life.” Twain lived through a different imperialistic era in America (the late 1800s and early 1900s), but how might this resonate with “imperial outrages” in Andrew’s own lifetime?

8. Andrew describes the possibility of a human yearning for a group brain, a larger social mind: “Perhaps we long for something like the situation these other creatures have— the ants, the bees— where the thinking is outsourced.” He mentions that this kind of thinking “brings us to politics.” What does he mean by this? How might this relate, specifically, to his encounters with the White House later in the book? What are other instances, in the book and in real life, when humans are drawn to this kind of “group brain” phenomenon?

9. Briony seems to transform Andrew. He speaks of how “watching her lifted me into a comparable state of happiness.” How do you think Briony manages to rescue Andrew from his “cold clear emotionless pond of silence”? What is it about her that inspires such life in him?

10. Andrew also remarks about Briony that he finds “redemption” in “the loving attentions of this girl.” Then, at the very end of the book, he describes how Mark Twain found a different kind of redemption in the world, when his children “remember this tale and laugh with love for their father.” What is similar about their two kinds of redemption? What is different?

11. How does love transform Andrew? Is it a permanent transformation, or is it temporary? Andrew describes love as “the blunt concussion that renders us insensible to despair.” He also describes the happiness that stems from love as a feeling “possibly induced by endormorphin, the brain’s opiate.” Why do you think Andrew gravitates towards physical metaphors to describe the power of love?

12. By the end of the story, how much did you trust or believe in the literal truth of what Andrew was saying? Did your attitude towards his narrative reliability change at all, over the course of the novel?

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E. L. Doctorow’s novels include The March, City of God, The Waterworks, Welcome to Hard Times, The Book of Daniel, Ragtime, Loon Lake, Lives of the Poets, World’s Fair, and Billy Bathgate. His work has been published in thirty-two languages. Among his honors are the National Book Award, three National Book Critics Circle awards, two PEN/Faulkner awards, the Edith Wharton Citation for Fiction, the William Dean Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the presidentially conferred National Humanities Medal. E. L. Doctorow lives in New York. 


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