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The protagonist and narrator of E. L. Doctorow’s twelfth novel, Andrew’s Brain (Random House, $26), is a clumsy cognitive scientist who relates the story of his life from an undisclosed location to an unnamed psychiatrist. His anxious monologue — interrupted occasionally by the analyst’s dopey questions — is at once marriage plot, 9/11 novel, and neuroscience brief. Andrew isn’t a very convincing proponent of his subject. His despair over the (misleading) finding that brains “make our decisions before we make them,” for example, tells us a good deal about his own fears and almost nothing about the problem of free will. Speaking of will: Andrew’s being held against his, and though he professes to be suspicious of the talking cure, he can’t shut up.

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is a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine. Her most recent article, “Bed-Wetting,” appeared in the August 2013 issue.

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