Monday, April 4, 2016

Seeing things

A brain surgeon gets a brain tumor. OK, this story is interesting already, but Mira Jacobs takes this high-concept idea and, with intriguing characters and subtle plot developments, turns her first novel, The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing, into something special.

Almost every American city of any size now has at least one physician from India, and Dr. Thomas Eapen is one of them, a successful brain surgeon who brought his wife, Kamala, and two children, Amina and Akhil, to Albuquerque in the late 1970s. The son, Akhil, died while still in high school, but Amina is now, in 1998, a promising wedding photographer in Seattle. But a disturbing call from her mother brings her home. It seems her father has been having long conversations with his late mother and other dead relatives.

The visions stem from a tumor, and the treatments keep Amina in Albuquerque much longer than she planned, especially when her father decides against continuing them rather than miss an opportunity to see and speak with Akhil.

A spooky, underdeveloped aspect of the plot finds Amina, without a brain tumor, having visions of her own. She thinks she can see her grandmother in one of her photographs, and in a late-night visit to her old high school she sees the spirit of her brother. So is her father, with his tumor, seeing what really is there rather than just imaging what isn't? Meanwhile, Amina's career is on the line because of some artful but unflattering photos she has taken, and unresolved issues threaten to tear her family apart.

While not totally satisfying, this novel makes irresistible reading.

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