Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Literally the Best Reviews: The Man Without a Shadow

The Man Without a Shadow -- Joyce Carol Oates
Ecco Publishing
384 Pages

Books by Joyce Carol Oates are sometimes hard to review. There is no neat category to fit her works into, which can make reading them difficult if you're used to once type of novel. I've found that many of her works are less than thrilling while others shine. With her new release, The Man Without a Shadow, Oates has delivered a book that kept my interest all the way to end. As a semi-regular reader of her novels, this is a sort of redemption in my eyes after Jack of Spades.

The Man Without a Shadow chronicles the life of Elihu Hoopes, a man whose traumatic brain injury allows him to lose memory of everything after only 70 seconds. If he were to turn his head away from you while speaking for that time, he would not only forget what he was talking about, but he would also forget who you were, and why you were there.

The story begins in 1965, shortly after the accident that caused Hoopes' memory loss, when neuroscientist, Margot Sharpe, meets the patient for the first time. The entire story comes to the reader through the eyes of Margot as she studies and emotionally connects with him. As a result, although Hoopes is the subject of the study, Margot is the character who we learn the most about.

Over the years, Margot ages alongside Hoopes, although Hoopes perpetually sees himself as a thirty-five year old man. She harbors special feelings for her patient, which goes against every rule in the profession. Her unethical relationship with her patient must stay hidden if she wants to remain a leader in her field, and be taken seriously.

At the beginning of the book, we learn just enough about Hoopes to pull us into the narrative. As the story goes on, we learn more and more about Margot and her background. By the end of the book, the reader is totally immersed in her character while Hoopes becomes the backdrop upon which Margot's life is painted. The book leaves the reader questioning the ethics of Margot and her supervisor. What else could be done to a person who only remembers things for 70 seconds? What could you get away with, knowing that he or she would never remember what happened?

Joyce Carol Oates, in my personal opinion, has redeemed herself after her last novel, Jack of Spades. This new work is an engaging page turner. You wonder what Margot will do next to solidify her secret relationship with Bootes. And sometimes you wonder if behind the smirks that Bootes really knows what's going on. Oates fills our heads with questions that last all the way through the book to the end. Sometimes some questions are better left unanswered even though you really want the answers. This book keeps you wanting more. That makes it a great book.

I will continue to read books by Joyce Carol Oates. While it has been hit or miss with me, the hits are well worth the wait. The Man Without a Shadow is an enjoyable read that most readers will cruise through. You could make it your vacation read this summer. I have a list I need to get through, but I'll probably see you at the library picking out your new favorites.

Next Week: Lafayette in the Somewhat United States -- Sarah Vowell.

Sometimes Craig Bacon wants to keep on reading even though he knows he needs to write for you. This week is one of those weeks. The books are too good to put down right now.