Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Do We Need a Cure?

This week at the library I found one of those books that I just couldn't put down, Lisa Tucker's The Cure for Modern Life. I'd be entirely enthusiastic about this book, except that it doesn't have a satisfying ending. It fades out, when I wanted to see how everything was resolved.

The book centers on the moral, ethical, career-related, and romantic struggles of Matthew, who works at a big drug company, and Amelia, who is a bio-ethicist, hence the title (late in the book, Matthew actually does say to her "I can't give you a cure for modern life").

One of the things that got me hooked, early on, is Matthew's "What If" game:
"What if you must choose between strangling a kitten and having ten thousand acres of the rain forest pulverized? What if you're given a chance to meet Shakespeare, but only with your clothes off? What if you could discover a cure for cancer, but you can make it public only if you agree to blow Oliver North? What if you were in Damien's shoes in Omen II--would you kill yourself after discovering you were the Antichrist, or go ahead and use your evil powers to take control of the earth?"
And the wonderful thing about this game is that the characters keep coming back to it as a reference point--in fact, a later chapter is entitled "strangling the kitten."

The conflict in the novel is that Amelia can't respect what Matthew does at the drug company. For most of the book, I wasn't sure if there was some big secret about what he was doing, but now I think that this isn't a mystery novel. Like Iago says, "what you know, you know." The conflict turns out to be centered on the question of whether Amelia can trust anything about the man she loves. He is not above using the attempts she makes to discredit him against her, for instance.

Another angle on Amelia and Matthew's life is provided by the homeless children that Matthew ends up taking in. Although the boy, Danny, is ten, he has few cultural references, and so communication with him is continually interesting--at one point, Matthew says "Luke, I am your father,' in a really weird voice" and Danny has no idea why. He thinks that the way Matthew lives is marvelous:
"They had no idea how incredibly easy they had it. No wonder it was so tough to beg from normal people. They were so caught up in their own problems. He'd always thought they couldn't see him and his mom and Isabelle, but now he knew it was worse. They couldn't see themselves, either. They never got to sit back and think everything is fine now. Life is good."
So I liked reading this book because, although it's a good story, it's also one that makes you think.

Do you have a minute to sit back and think everything is fine now? I think I'll take one. It's sleeting outside, but I have central heat. I had a shower this morning. I have lots of food in the house. Best of all, I have three people coming home later.


Luanne said...

Hi Jeanne - stop by my blog tomorrow to pick up your award!

Harriet said...

This sounds like my kind of book (also, I once had a short-term job for a big drug company). And it's good to remember what we've got that's good. It's too easy to dwell on the things that make us miserable. And what does that accomplish, really?