By Megan Harlan
Updated October 27, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

One morning, while frantically checking voicemails during his commute on Boston’s T, fortyish Bill Chalmers suffers a bizarre breakdown: The stressed-out businessman completely forgets who he is and where he’s going. That’s the setup for Alan Lightman’s dark, deadpan, and decidedly Kafkaesque third novel The Diagnosis, a 2000 National Book Award nominee. While the humiliations awaiting Bill range from public nudity to homelessness, none rivals the blackly humorous battery of medical exams he endures to determine the cause of his mysterious ailment. Despite a strained subplot in which Bill’s teenage son takes an Internet course on Socrates, The Diagnosis offers a robust indictment of a time-crunched, information-glutted world. B+

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