After a life of depression and addiction, Dr. David Sternn undergoes an innovative brain procedure that seems to be an almost miraculous cure in Angres’ (Positive Sobriety, 2012) sci-fi novel.
The novel quickly pulls readers into Sternn’s world via a therapy session centered on the doctor’s suicidal thoughts, bringing them deep into his fragile psyche. Sternn’s self-centered cynicism, existential ruminations, and horror at interacting with people and the world at large may remind some readers at times of characters in Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1938 novel Nausea. The author reveals Sternn’s history through flashbacks from his boyhood as the son of Holocaust survivors, through his college drug use, medical education in Mexico, love life and work as an emergency room physician. This technique allows for the smooth insertion of technical and medical details, as Sternn undergoes a procedure called deep brain stimulation, in which electrodes are implanted in his brain to alleviate his symptoms and alter his feelings. The electrodes’ effects can be fine-tuned by using two devices—one controlled by Sternn and another, more powerful one by his psychiatrist. Sternn soon starts to believe that the psychologist is manipulating him. Throughout, the author also drops hints about a man named Umberto Waller, who plays a key part in Sternn’s story. As the narrative progresses, readers see all facets of the main character, who is by turns intelligent, professional, cunning and hopeless, with an outsize ability to rationalize. Although the end is a surprise, it’s wholly in character. Angres, a recovering addict and an addiction psychiatrist, is spot-on in his descriptions of medical procedures and technologies and the slippery emotional states of depressives and addicts. He’s also in tune with the mindsets of people on both sides of the psychiatrist’s desk.
An expertly told psychological sci-fi tale, with an emphasis on cutting-edge medical tech.