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Flashback

by Kilian Melloy
Saturday Oct 1, 2005
Flashback

Gary Braver -- the pen name of Gary Goshgarian, author of first-rate horror novels "The Stone Circle," and "Rough Beast," as well as the playfully inventive deep-sea adventure novel "Atlantis Fire" -- has become the surest name for medical thrillers that provoke chills and stimulate both the cerebral and the adrenal cortices. With "Elixir," Braver presented the scientific Holy Grail of immortality on a bed of ethical thorns; with "Gray Matter," he explored the possibilities -- and the terrifying perils -- of enhancing human intelligence. Braver's new novel, "Flashback," serves another juicy slice of storytelling, well marbled with moral difficulties and unexpected consequences.

Jack Koryan, the all-too-human protagonist, sets events in motion with a simple swim in the ocean. Encountering a rare school of toxic jellyfish -- borne to the East Coast on a warm ocean current from tropical waters, an unusual but authentic phenomenon -- Koryan is stung repeatedly, succumbing to a coma as the result of massive poisoning. But the exotic toxin of the jellyfish proves to have an equally exotic side effect: when he emerges from his long sleep to discover that his troubled marriage has ended and his dream of owning a fine restaurant has slipped away from him, Jack begins to experience enhanced memory skills -- and the fragmentary recollections of a traumatic event from his early life.

Even as Jack struggles to piece his life back together, clinical trials of a promising new cure for Alzheimer's Disease excites the medical community, offering hope of recovery to victims of senility and their families, and spelling out a future of spectacular wealth to a small-time pharmaceuticals concern run by a ruthless CEO named Gavin Moy. Reigning Moy in is Nick Mavros, a lion of a man with a gentle demeanor -- until provoked. Following an incident in which a research study patient with Alzheimer's murders a store clerk -- and in light of procedural irregularities that surface during the subsequent investigation -- Moy puts Mavros in charge of keeping the new drug, Memorine, already gaining buzz as a miracle cure, on track for development. Mavros himself has a trusted right hand in the person of Renee Ballard, a brilliant young woman troubled by her father's slow unraveling and untimely death from senility.

Mavros and Ballard are under enormous pressure not to rock the Memorine gravy train, but as one research participant after the next demonstrates bizarre behavior linked to recovered memory ability, Mavros becomes increasingly concerned; Ballard, meantime, hears about Jack's similarly enhanced memory, and seeks him out for an interview, hoping to better understand what Memorine might be doing to its victims. Some become trapped in recurring episodes of past trauma; some seemingly choose to wall themselves up into self-made cocoons of reminiscence. Before long, the disparate threads of a decades-old secret that bind them all together begin to tighten and draw everyone toward a tragic revelation -- and a lethal contest of wills. What seems at first glance to be mere coincidence proves to be the result of boundless ambition and nasty secrets.

As with each of his books, Braver proves himself to be not only a skilled novelist, but an exceptional writer, investing his prose with lovely cadence and rich evocation, and endowing his characters with inner lives full of turmoil, need, hope, regret, and humor. "Thriller" is almost the wrong word to use for his books; "drama" might be a better choice. In any event, Braver proves that the novel is not dead even as he demonstrates that realistic speculative fiction is neither kid's stuff nor a trivial time waster, but essential to confronting and controlling the technical marvels of our own modern world.

Publisher: Forge Books. Publication Date: October, 2005. Pages: 400. Price: $25.95. ISBN 0-765-30251-9

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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