In this debut novel, a cancer researcher tackles difficult ethical issues.
Professor Vero Arcangelo, the director of neurosurgery at a large university hospital, receives a grant to explore intensive chemotherapy for cancers of the brain. His successes are many; in one case, he gives the gift of music back to a famous pianist who lost the ability to play because of a brain tumor. Over the course of the novel, Arcangelo situates himself in the world of medicine as a formidable surgeon—a reputation that intensifies as his chemotherapy trials go on. He also undergoes several personal transformations in his own life. The medical and philosophical drama expands to tell the story of Dr. Peter Kelly, a remarkably neurotic professor of psychiatry who assists Arcangelo with his trials. Kelly, the product of a Roman Catholic upbringing who was abused by a priest, holds nothing but scorn for his patients, his family and the world at large. Paul, a gifted young man, is his only social contact and his loyal companion. When Kelly is diagnosed with cancer that has metastasized to his brain, it tests everyone’s ethics, their conceptions of human life and their beliefs in the existence of the soul. The aftermath of Kelly’s operation lends the work its enigmatic title. Raccuglia creates a world in which questions of philosophy and ethics deeply affect his characters. Through advances, both real and fictional, in medical science, he explores what it means to be human, the nature of the soul and the impact of choice. His prose style is occasionally pedantic since he attempts to ensure that every reader understands each medical procedure and its larger implications. However, he balances this tone by providing insights into the deep internal lives of all of his characters, transforming what could easily have been a morality play into an almost operatic work about the many difficulties that confront humanity in the modern age.
A deft novel about philosophy and the cutting edge of medicine.