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Book Reviews   |    
Gene

Gene
by by Gerald Deshayes. ; Bloomington, Indiana, Trafford Publishing, 2009, 340 pages, $29.95

Reviewed by Wesley Sowers, M.D.
Psychiatric Services 2011; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.000621520
View Author and Article Information

The reviewer reports no competing interests.

Dr. Sowers is director, Center for Public Service Psychiatry, Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, and clinical associate professor of psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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Reading the promotional material on the book cover, one might think that this book, about a young man who has a serious accident that results in quadriplegia, could be an uplifting story about personal growth and recovery, but one would be wrong. Instead, the reader gets an unconvincing medical science fiction story that reads like a soap opera and fails to develop any of its characters in a sympathetic light, including the accident's victim, Gene. We learn that Gene is largely responsible for his condition because he engaged in highly risky showmanship to compensate for his short stature in attempting to win the admiration of a young woman he was hoping to exploit. Despite the fact that we are told of Gene's past, the disturbing and inexplicable neglect he experienced from his parents, and the circumstances of his tragic accident, it is very difficult to generate any protective feelings toward him.

The author, Gerald Deshayes, was supposedly inspired by the death of his sister, who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The experience of people who lose the use of their body while their minds are still active is the stated theme that motivated this writing. He seems to have been sidetracked however, by his quite cynical vision of the ubiquity of narcissistic impulses of human beings, all of whom he paints with the same brush.

Exploitation is the operative theme here. Each character of any significance engages in it in some way over the course of this tale. There is rarely a kind or considerate thought mentioned in the book, as characters manipulate potential lovers, ignore all elements of medical ethics, and show general indifference and lack of respect for the rights and dignity of others in order to achieve their own ends. The main action of the book centers on a private research group that has developed a “body transplant” procedure that is kept secret in order to maintain a competitive advantage. This process has the potential to cure people like Gene, who is enticed into being a “guinea pig” for their experimentation. They move forward with this procedure even though their preliminary results with animals have been equivocal and they must essentially “snatch” a body donor and lie to his family in order to complete the procedure. Although a variety of ethical issues are raised over the course of the book, none are really satisfactorily explored, and many of the plot elements, included apparently for the purpose of raising them, are inexplicably dropped as the author moves on to other topics.

Although this was an unbelievably bad book for a variety of reasons, I must admit that I was compelled to read it once I started it, despite my low opinion of the writing. Like a soap opera, badness was its best asset.

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