cover image The Man Without a Shadow

The Man Without a Shadow

Joyce Carol Oates. Ecco, $27.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-241609-4

A bizarre medical condition%E2%80%94anterograde amnesia%E2%80%94is the linchpin holding together Oates's latest novel, a profound and moving meditation on how memory shapes our personalities and, by extension, the emotions that we provoke in others. When neuroscientist Margot Sharpe first meets Elihu Hoopes in 1965 at a neuropsychology lab in Darven Park, Penn., he is a 37-year-old man whose brain has been devastated irreversibly by encephalitis. Although Eli (as everyone calls him) can remember incidents before his illness with great thoroughness, his short-term memories last no longer than 70 seconds. Over the next three decades of scientific study, Margot learns remarkable things about the neurological foundation of memory from Eli, who in his mind is eternally 37 years old. She also falls in love with him%E2%80%94or, at least, the man she thinks he is. Occasionally, Eli is prone to unpredictably violent outbursts that shock Margot, and in a typically edgy fashion, Oates suggests that, in addition to the memories that he can't retain, Eli has memories that he won't reveal. With her usual skill and panache, Oates writes as though she has known her characters all their lives. Agent: Warren Frazier, John Hawkins and Associates. (Jan.)