Daniel Waterstone has every intention of writing the Great American Novel, and in doing so, he is going to set the ignorant, crazy mass of modern readers straight on what constitutes great literature. But, after two improbable, failed “masterpieces,” his publisher, the delightfully savvy Suzanne, has told him that success and recognition will best be served by his authoring a book that some of the “great-unwashed” might actually be interested in reading. Daniel likes the idea but is clueless about how to proceed.
The product of coldly academic and overprotective parents, Daniel entered adulthood as a cynic with a dislike for people, a fear of women, and a conviction that everyone except him was crazy. He had such strong feelings of loneliness that he often thought of himself as an alien trapped on the wrong planet. Although highly-degreed in literature, the rigidly naïve Mr. Waterstone will soon learn that he is obligated to finish one final course: Life 101. And if he is willing to take his lessons, life just might have a little something up its sleeve for him.
Daniel quickly finds a theme for the book that will liberate him from poverty and his sense of failure; he enters a bookstore where a flamboyant and somewhat other-worldly writer of self-help books is preaching his gospel to an enchanted crowd. When Daniel calls him out as an opportunistic fraud, the guru challenges him to engage in a “mind-meld” that will supposedly free Daniel from some of his hang-ups.
Amused and seemingly unaffected, Daniel leaves the store cradling an idea for the book that will please the masses: he will write, under a pseudonym, a satire that exposes the pop-psychology industry for what he thinks it is: a total lie, an insult to crazy people done by crazy people. Ironically, his satire becomes the kind of blockbuster success that brings him riches and fame, but at a cost, as author Dermot Davis is happy to tell us all about in Brain: The Man Who Wrote the Book That Changed the World, his mystical and joyous tale of personal growth and fulfillment in the modern age.
“Crazy,” the word, the notion, the concept, is the spine from which flows the energy of Davis’ often tongue-in-cheek fairy tale, its relevance grounded in the infinite variability of human experience, and its ability to score a few points for emotion in the seemingly endless skirmish between skepticism and belief. Score more points for the stubborn and ineffective Daniel if he can revise the “me-versus-them” definition of “crazy” that has him strapped to the cheap seats of human experience.
And, could there be a better word than “crazy” to carry the torch of enlightenment into the shadows of our increasingly soul-less and programmed culture? Probably not, at least in Davis’ jauntily addictive narrative, an arena in which he holds court with the majesty of an imaginative, accomplished humorist.
I was not surprised to learn that the author is also a playwright, as his marvelously crafted characters and sets quickly acquire the kind of three-dimensional believability that one expects to encounter in a live theatrical performance or, according to my mind’s eye, a movie (complete with an endearingly haunting soundtrack and a reincarnated Jack Lemmon in the lead role!).
Dermot Davis’ Brain is that rare species of complete entertainment that can be both deeply philosophical and buoyantly accessible. Laughs, suspense, intrigue, love, and a gentle thread of the paranormal are all there for you, gift-wrapped in a sweet mist of serendipity.