Medical thriller with an abundance of preaching—and a blessed lack of typical plot machinations.
The Big Issue in Braver’s second novel (after Elixir, 2000) is the obsession of the upper classes with hyper-performing children and the tendency to push them too far. The subjects are an upwardly mobile Massachusetts couple, Martin and Rachel Whitman, who have a delightful six-year-old named Dylan. While still able to function on a basic level, Dylan shows some definite signs of being developmentally disabled. Since Rachel is a Type A mother with predilections toward obsession, and Martin is a driven workaholic who runs an egghead-hunting firm in Cambridge, Dylan’s slowness don’t sit too well with them. To add some spice and guilt to the bourgeois mix, Braver tosses in Rachel’s having experimented in college with a kind of acid called TNT, which had the advantage of ramping up sexual pleasure but the disadvantage of sometimes causing later problems with offspring. It doesn’t take long for Rachel and Martin, via a friend, to get hooked up with Dr. Lucius Malenko. Disregarding the voice in the back of their heads that tells them to avoid people with sulphur-smelling names like Malenko, Martin and Rachel listen to his proposal to perform a radical surgical procedure on Dylan that will drastically enhance his intellect (for a mere million bucks and a promise to keep it a secret). As the Whitmans try to decide, we gradually see the full extent of Malenko’s secret procedure, which he’s already performed on a number of children who turned out smart but very disturbed. Braver succumbs to a fair amount of windy proselytizing about upper-class Americans’ need to have every child a genius, but he also, fortunately, avoids most of the cloak-and-dagger brouhaha of the genre.
A solid enough performer but unlikely to win the author many new fans.