I listened to this audio in one sitting, trying to understand it. It was short, just over three hours. I replayed several parts over and over, trying to understand the point. I fear I missed some of it.
A man is speaking to what appears to be a psychiatrist, but could just as easily have been an imaginary friend, an alter ego, a prison guard, a lawyer, or himself. He is pretending, at first, to be speaking about a friend, but the reader quickly learns that it is Andrew, indeed, who is narrating.
Andrew, presumably, is an expert on the brain. He is well educated with a diploma from an Ivy League school, probably Yale, if the person he alludes to at the end as his roommate, was really the President of the United States, none other than “W”. The reader will wonder if he is sane, perhaps schizophrenic, out of touch with reality, or simply telling a bizarre tale based in reality. Without intending to, Andrew seems to unwittingly leave death and destruction in his wake, and he has naively brought the hammer down upon his own head, if he is telling the truth.
His character Andrew, tells his tale piece-meal and at times it sounds like half-truths. He has visions, hears voices and believes they are real or symbols representing reality. He speaks to this same character over a period of years, sometimes in different places, not in person, but by phone.
When tragedy strikes his world, Andrew and his wife, Martha, split up. Eventually, he falls in love again with one of his students, Briony, and he enjoys a loving relationship. When tragedy once again strikes him, on what the reader will assume is 9/11 from hints given, he resorts to previous behavior and runs away from responsibility. However, Andrew always seems to be an accident waiting to happen. When he walks his dog, it is captured by a hawk, when he goes sledding and a car avoids hitting him, it kills the driver instead. Everyone he seems to interact with is dysfunctional in some way or in some way suffers from something extraordinary.
While the surface novel is simple: man suffers and man makes mistakes and man pays for his mistakes, real or imaginary, physically, psychologically, emotionally or mentally, there seems to be a more profound meaning. The reader simply has to discover it. Is Andrew often misjudged or is he living in an alternate universe? Did the stories he relates really take place or are they figments of his imagination? Where is Andrew in the end? Is he a prisoner? Is he a free man? Is he an enemy combatant?
Although he does not name President Bush and his staff by name, it is obvious that he is referring to Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, and he dislikes them, disrespects them, believes they are ill-prepared and inept at their jobs, and that they betray him, in the end, causing his imprisonment as if he had been nothing but a plaything. In fact, I thought the author’s portrayal was a bit insulting, and I don’t believe he would portray the current President in that same way, though he could well have, since the book was published in 2013, well into the current President’s service. An author who has a main character who is an academic, can safely be assumed to most likely be liberal in his beliefs, so once again, an author has taken the opportunity, or the liberty, to use his bully pulpit to put forth his own one-sided political views, which I believe unfairly and incorrectly influences the readers and forces them to swallow the author’s bias without presenting both sides of the issue.
Be that as it may, Doctorow reads his book quite well, with expression, but his voice is gravelly, not resonant, and that made him sound a little tired and not quite that into the reading of it. It was interesting to try and figure out what was happening between the characters and guess the purpose of the conversations between the patient/client/doctor/attorney.