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January 9, 2020

Dead Man Dreaming by Uday Mukerji ~ a Review

by MK French


David is a senior resident and a driven man, determined to be a heart surgeon. He is in a loving relationship when he receives the diagnosis of Huntington's Disease. His entire life seems to come crashing to a halt at that point, as his relationship ends along with the dreams he had for his future. Instead, he tries to campaign for genetic screening tests for everyone before becoming parents. While some understand that point of view, others condemn it. Somewhere along the way, he finds a new drive to live and love again in spite of the diagnosis.

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October 2019; Adelaide Books
978-1951214463; print (238 pages); literary
I don't think interviews run very differently between the United States and Canada, but David's interview at the start struck me as odd. I would never expect attending physicians to ask about personal medical history. How would they know that David's father died sixteen years ago of Huntington's disease and state that they will report the possibility to the hospital medical board? Plenty of people that might carry the gene don't take the genetic test to find out if they're at risk or not. Yes, I understand that there's more risk for a cardiac surgeon who might develop the disease, but it also strikes me as inherently wrong and coercive to practically threaten a surgery resident's career if they don't take a genetic test to satisfy their curiosity.

It's always dramatic to have a doctor's life turned upside down as they turn into a patient, and it would especially be difficult for a surgeon. That is going to be impossible when the chorea sets in, and even his day to day life would be disrupted when the hallucinations begin. He was so distraught, he couldn't sleep or stop worrying about what he felt was his inevitable future. David had watched his father gradually deteriorate from Huntington's, and doesn't want to put anyone else through the pain he had seen his mother go through. We learn a lot about his background and his parents struggles when they emigrated to Canada, which were complicated by his Father's illness. It was an emotionally scarring time for David and part of his decision to become a doctor.

There are always alternatives to consider when there are high risks of genetic disorders. This can range from sperm or egg donation to surrogacy, to gene editing, or adoption. It's a highly personal and emotionally charged decision and one that often brings the question of religion and morality into it. Chloe's insistence on "her" child with David highlighted how some people are not interested in adopting children and will go to any lengths or cost to make biological children happen. The hospital involved in the education program also brought up the religious aspect. I suppose I have my own issues with it because I bristle a little every time I see his effort described as an effort "to prove parental fitness." Knowing you possess a gene for a particular disease doesn't automatically make you a terrible parent, and doesn't mean genetic diseases "would be a thing of the past." This concern is addressed over the course of the novel.

David's journey through the novel was overshadowed by the specter of Huntington's disease. He calls himself an HD sufferer from the start, and the connection he has with Jessie at first is only because of illness. His relationship with Chloe was more superficial in contrast. The success that his website has seems a little too contrived, but he does know influential people as much as he doesn't want to use it.

The story here is less about the mandatory testing campaign, though it takes up a majority of the novel. The central idea is education and informed decisions, as well as finding a purpose separate from a preconceived notion of what should be. Plans can always fail, and it can be difficult to deal with a finite end. Ultimately, it's the journey that matters, and who is with us along the way.

Buy Dead Man Dreaming at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband and three young children.

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