Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Garcia's Heart

Garcia’s Heart by Liam Durcan (McClelland & Stewart 2007)

With the publication of Garcia’s Heart by Liam Durcan, yet another Canadian doctor throws his hat into the ring. Who knew there were so many with literary aspirations?

In this debut novel, Durcan dances across the corpus callosum, proving that the combination of medicine and literature – the left and right brain – make for good fiction. Garcia’s Heart tackles difficult moral conundrums, like the nature of good and evil, innocence and culpability. It also, to a lesser extent, delves into the responsibility of the individual in an increasingly amoral corporate world. Durcan serves up these meditations in a topical exploration of the vagaries of the World Court, and not without a smattering of mystery.

Patrick Lazerenko, an expat Canadian living and working in Boston, learns that his former boss and mentor, Hernan Garcia, is to stand trial in Den Haag for crimes against humanity. He is accused of aiding and abetting the torture of political dissidents in his homeland of Honduras during the turbulent 1980s. Patrick leaves his job – a company he founded – during a critical juncture in order to attend the trial and discern the truth about the man he so well respected.

Complicating matters is the possibility the Patrick might be subpoenaed by either side of the case. The defence wishes to employ his unique expertise as a neuroscientist to discuss Hernan’s ability to judge right from wrong, while the prosecution suspects Patrick withholds damning testimony.

Ah, yes. Did I mention that Hernan’s daughter, Celia, is Patrick’s former lover?

The plot requires much telling to unravel the truth. But it is sufficiently compelling to keep the reader interested. The character of Patrick is also a well-crafted invention, vacillating, pondering, and loving unrequitedly in a very believable fashion.

However, when dealing with highly technical and specialized fields such as neuroscience and law – let alone juggling both in a single novel – an author runs the risk of losing his reader in the minutiae. As affirmed by the novel’s protagonist, "any interesting job could be reduced to a series of bureaucratic functions." Garcia’s Heart stumbles in and out of this mire on a few occasions.

The diction and sentence structure here can also reflect the cumbersome topics. Appositives, subliminal interjections, multiple clauses, and dense vocabulary can combine to create some tricky prose from time to time:

"He was also, despite his designation as protege, miserable in the office where his recent arrival and prepubescent appearance combined with the insecurity of the business-types to bleed credibility from him...with a bit of supportive psychotherapy and an implied challenge to his intelligence – motivational tactics Patrick had mastered as a thesis supervisor – he agreed to stay."

Ultimately, these are small quibbles. Garcia’s Heart is a confident debut novel that will leave you wondering "what had to happen for a life to double in on itself, for separate trajectories to form and diverge, and if living this lie took as great a toll as another having to discover it."