By Keith Staskiewicz
Updated January 16, 2014 at 05:00 AM EST

Doctorow has partly made his career out of taking well-known figures — like Harry Houdini in Ragtime and the Rosenbergs in The Book of Daniel — and removing their real-life specificity, softening history enough to mold it into literature. His latest protagonist, a cognitive-science professor cursed by bad luck and worse decisions, is entirely fictional but possesses a similarly malleable identity. The novel, constructed as a dialogue between Andrew and his therapist, grapples with issues of memory, consciousness, and perception in a way that’s meant to resemble the internal thought process. It’s a quick and acutely intelligent read, but spending all that time in one man’s head can get a little claustrophobic. B