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A Piercing Gaze and Glimpses of the Beyond :: Gary Braver’s ’Tunnel Vision’

by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Jun 30, 2011

Boston-based author Gary Braver has written a small library of bio-medical thrillers that look at different aspects of how science can go wrong in the hands of the greedy, the psychologically maimed, and the just plain evil.

"Gary Braver" is the pen name of Gary Goshgarian, a professor of English at Northeastern University in Boston. Under his own name, Braver has written three novels: The adventure thriller "Atlantis Fire," horror novel "The Stone Circle," and his first biomedical thriller, "Rough Beast."

As Gary Braver, the accomplished author has completed five novels, and is midway through a sixth, which he says will be something of a departure. Looking at his work so far, there's a commonality of well-rendered prose and expert plotting, but over and above those qualities, the books, taken together, represent a career-spanning meditation on the human frailty with which we struggle, and the virtues to which we aspire.

With "Elixir," Braver speculated on the drawbacks, as well as the benefits, of extended youth. Those who used a special, newly developed pharmaceutical didn't have to worry about aging, but, in a Dorian Gray-worthy twist, should their access to the drug be cut off, they faced a horrible price... though perhaps not as shocking as the price that the world at large might pay on the geopolitical stage if and when the new drug were to become publicly available.

But what if life could be made better not by making it longer, but by amping IQ? With "Gray Matter," Braver considered the ramifications of enhancing human smarts, depicting a possible near future in which intelligence brokers sell their brain-boosting technique for a hefty profit... and at the cost of innocent lives.

Some would say that the essence of life -- and perhaps of intelligence -- lies with memory. Braver gave come thought to this, too, with "Flashback," a novel in which a groundbreaking treatment for Alzheimer's disease also carries the prospect for sharpening memory, and unlocking secrets hidden in the dark recesses of the winding cortex.

In a riff on the gap between inner and outer beauty -- and the questionable emphasis placed on the external -- Braver turned to the realm of plastic surgery in "Skin Deep," a harrowing thriller centered around the deaths of beautiful women with one thing in common: Each had sought medical intervention in the battle against age and minor physical imperfections.

A common theme of increasing what we already possess to some glorious height (or, as Braver warns, perverse depth) is apparent in these books. But with his newest thriller, "Tunnel Vision," Braver reaches for the transcendent. What possibilities for life lay outside of the body? What if all our efforts to expand human potential through medicine miss the point, and the spiritual realm is where we might unlock our greatest potential?

Or, as the book's tagline has it: "What if you didn't have to die to know if there's a Heaven? And what if the evidence could get you killed?"

Braver, relaxing at a restaurant near Harvard Square with EDGE, chuckled over the arc that his stories have, as a whole, followed so far.

"I think the older I get, the higher I reach," Braver ruminated. "There seems to be a progression: boosting intelligence, boosting longevity, finding a cure of Alzheimer's disease. If all else fails you get a new face. And now, finding God. You can see a pattern of progression keeping pace with my aging!

"The task for these books, ever since 'Elixir,' has always been that they should be high-concept thrillers, but that they should also be literate page-turners with strong female characters," Braver added. "They are centered on the family, and contain fantasies along the lines of a 'Frankenstein' message: Watch out what you wish for."

When it came to taking that step beyond the confines of fleshly existence, Braver had to be prepared for something even more extreme than cutting-edge plastic surgery or revolutionary neuroscience. He had to be ready to tackle the very idea of life beyond life as we know it on the physical plane, and the implications that non-corporeal consciousness might have for our concepts of God.

The plot centers around a young graduate student named Zack Kashian (who, like many of Braver's protagonists, is of Armenian descent -- a wink at Braver's, which is to say Goshgarian's, own lineage). Zack has a whole host of problems. As a boy, he saw his parents' marriage collapse following the murder of his older brother, killed by a group of young men in an anti-gay hate crime. His father, seeking solace in religion, left the family to become a monk; his mother, feeling wronged by God twice over, turns away from faith.

Zack himself is an atheist, but after a bicycle accident and several weeks in a coma, he awakens to discover that he has become an object of reverence to religious believers after video of himself murmuring the Lord's Prayer in Aramaic is posted to YouTube. Horrified, Zack seeks some sort of rational explanation. But his post-accident life is markedly different: Zack begins to experience what seem to be psychic flashes.

When he's recruited by a research study investigating claims of a spirit realm as described by near-death survivors, Zack's psychic episodes become stronger and more disturbing. He begins having detailed dreams about murders -- dreams that turn out to be true. Has Zack made a psychic connection with a killer from beyond the grave? And if he has, is Zack himself now an instrument of terror and death?

Next: 'Life (After Life) is But a Dream'



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