Brain Storm

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Richard Dooling is the author of two previous novels, one a National Book Award nominee, and a lawyer in Omaha, Nebraska, who has written a spirited defense of free speech in the age of political correctness. He turns his knowledge of, and skills in, both areas, law and literature, to advantage in his third work about the contemporary insanity that passes itself off as normal life in the United States in the late twentieth century. Actually, the time is the early twenty-first century, for BRAIN STORM is a slightly futuristic satire.

Joe Watson is a first-year associate specializing in computer-assisted research at a prestigious St. Louis-based law firm. Watson’s ascent up the corporate law ladder via “billable hours” and “good lawyering” (i.e., “ass-covering”) is slowed, then stopped when an irascible federal judge assigns him a pro bono murder case. To make matters worse, the defendant is a loathsome racist facing the death penalty under the federal hate crime sentencing provisions, ostensibly because the victim was deaf and black but in fact because the publicity-seeking U.S. Attorney prosecuting the case is using it as a steppingstone to a Senate seat.

Watson’s “passing infatuation with criminal law, as his wife calls it,” costs him his job and very nearly his house and family. However, it pales in comparison with his infatuation with a beautiful forensic neuroscientist who offers the technologically up-to-date but otherwise old-fashioned legal geek a crash course in her area of expertise, with sidebars on sex as a merely mechanical function, free will as a bit of folk psychology, the soul as a vestigial organ in the brave new world of brain science, and criminal behavior nothing more than the inevitable consequence of faulty neural wiring.

To those who wonder whether satire is any longer possible in a world that produced TITANIC: A NEW MUSICAL, BRAIN STORM offers an intelligent and wildly funny yes. At once cartoonish and convincing, Dooling’s novel hits its main target (and more besides), the manic American pursuit of perfection and its high cost, the loss not just of innocence but of simple common sense.

Sources for Further Study

ABA Journal. LXXXIV, July, 1998, p. 88.

Booklist. XCIV, February 1, 1998, p. 902.

Kirkus Reviews. LXVI, January 1, 1998, p. 8.

Library Journal. CXXIII, January, 1998, p. 139.

The New York Times Book Review. CIII, April 19, 1998, p. 16.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, February 23, 1998, p. 51.