In this political thriller, battle lines between family and friends are drawn over a new pharmaceutical bill floated in Congress.
Jamie Steiner grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and anguished over his mother’s debilitating illness, one for which no relief appeared to be in sight. He decided to become a scientist, motivated to discover a cure for what ailed her; earned a Ph.D. in chemistry; and landed a job at Rauscher Pharmaceuticals. Jamie was able to uncover a causal link between his mother’s exposure to asbestos and her lung disease, and was instrumental in devising a cure for it. But now his employer repeatedly inflates the price of the drug and blocks the development of a new, considerably less expensive alternative. Meanwhile, two of his childhood friends, Earl and Herman Metzger, are at loggerheads over the regulation of the pharmaceutical industry, an ideological contest skillfully portrayed by Stemmle (Geezer Sex!: A Love Story, 2014). Earl is a congressman who advocates largely unregulated markets and Herman is a bureaucrat at the Food and Drug Administration. Further complicating matters, Earl marries Isabel, the daughter of John Tilson Rauscher, the CEO of Rauscher Pharmaceuticals, who contributes generously to his re-election campaigns and bankrolls his comfortable style of living. Furthermore, one of Earl and Herman’s younger brothers is ill due to asbestos exposure, and the Metzger family quietly struggles to pay for his health care. The mounting conflict crescendos when Earl, Herman, and Jamie all are called to testify at a congressional hearing in advance of a major vote on a bill that introduces new regulations of the pharmaceutical industry. Stemmle writes with impressive self-assurance about both politics and science, ably capturing the potential tug of wars within each and between the two. With considerable nuance, he demonstrates the many ways in which the personal overlays the political, pitting emotion against principle. But the author betrays the novel’s admirable evenhandedness when he gratuitously transforms John into a gangster who cruelly pimps out Isabel for political gain. The drama of the plot’s denouement is undermined by its bewildering implausibility, an ending so cartoonish that it seems written by another, less sophisticated writer.
An intelligent dramatization of an important debate in health care policy, hampered by a baffling conclusion.