Cover image for Gray matter
Gray matter
Braver, Gary.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Forge, 2002.
Physical Description:
400 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Rachel Whitman has everything. She's young, attractive, and affluent. Her husband is the brilliant CEO of his own company. They have a big new house in a flossy Boston suburb. They have all the brand-name "toys" that go along with wealth. And they have a gorgeous, sweet little six-year-old son named Dylan.But Dylan has learning disabilities. Although intelligence isn't everything, Rachel lives in a community where the rewards for brainpower are conspicuous. She fears her son will grow up never fully appreciating the wonders of life. Like so many middle-class parents who would do anything to improve life for their children-whether it means fixing hair, teeth, or nose-Rachel cannot accept that her child is less than perfect.Tortured by the idea that something she did in the past caused Dylan's problems, Rachel becomes obsessed with a secret and expensive medical procedure that claims to turn slow children into geniuses.Should she and her husband sacrifice their new fortune on the risky, experimental procedure for the sake of their son's happiness? Unaware of the real consequences of the brain enhancement procedure, Rachel can't know that the costs of the operation go far beyond financial ones.

Author Notes

Gary Braver is the award-winning author of six critically acclaimed thrillers including Elixir , Gray Matter , and Flashback , which was recipient of the 2006 Massachusetts Honor Book Award for Fiction - a first for a thriller - and which in a starred review Publishers Weekly called "an exceptional medical thriller." His novels have been translated into five languages, and three have been optioned for movies.Under his own name, Gary Goshgarian, he is an award-winning professor of English at Northeastern University where he teaches courses in Modern Bestsellers, Science Fiction, Horror Fiction, and Fiction Writing. He has taught fiction-writing workshops through out the United States and Europe for over twenty years. He is the author of five college writing textbooks.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

The title of Braver's second novel refers to the brain, to be sure, but also to the gray areas of human morality, surgical ethics, and human relationships. Neurologist Lucius Malenko got his start as a researcher in the Ukraine. When Soviet leaders learned of his experiments with mental enhancement in animals, they supported similar work on humans. After he came to the U.S., Malenko worked secretly for the National Security Agency, then set up a children's center in New England to capitalize on well-to-do, well-educated parents' desires to have their average children's IQs enhanced. The enterprise became a goldmine, and Malenko used the profits to set up his "Smart Money Portfolio." Quietly told, carefully censored success stories led more victims into Malenko's trap. Braver's intriguing tale never stumbles; everything in it, no matter how appalling, fits in believably as Malenko lies about personality changes in enhanced children, sets parent against parent, and has potential whistleblowers and kids who "fail" his operations destroyed. Don't be surprised if Gray Matter tops several (nonmedical) charts. --William Beatty

Publisher's Weekly Review

Visceral chills enliven the otherwise predictable path of Braver's second scientific thriller (after Elixir). Uber-yuppie Rachel Whitman worries about the teasing her slow-witted six-year-old son Dylan suffers at the hands of his brilliant playmate Lucinda at the fancy Massachusetts North Shore day care center he attends; worse, she fears that her college drug experimentation caused Dylan's deficiency. Seeing Rachel's distress, Lucinda's mother, Sheila, confides that Lucinda was much like Dylan until she was treated by Dr. Lucius Malenko at his exclusive Nova Children's Center to medically enhance her intelligence. Malenko's other patients include young Julian Watts, who works hours on end making exquisite pointillist paintings and has ground his teeth to nubs; Brendan LaMotte, who has a computer-like memory and deep emotional problems (he fantasizes about killing his grandfather); and Nicole DaFoe, who's sleeping with her history teacher and sabotages her academic rival to secure an important scholarship. Meanwhile, dogged police detective Greg Zakarian obsessively pores over the long-unsolved death of an unidentified little boy, even as another boy is abducted. This convoluted yarn works best when Braver keeps all his storylines in play, but as the plot unfolds, he focuses mostly on Rachel, whose worries about her son's failure to over-achieve make her the most conventional and perhaps least compelling of his characters. Still, he paints a rich tableau of creepy medical details and middle-class status anxiety and pulls off an explosive finale. Agent, Susan Crawford. National advertising. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



1 THE PRESENT HAWTHORNE, MASSACHUSETTS Dylan was in the middle of the chorus of "Bloody Mary" when Rachel Whitman turned into the lot of the Dells Country Club. Martin, Dylan's father, loved show tunes and Dylan had learned many by heart. "'Now ain't that too damn bad?'" "Darn," Rachel said and pulled into the shade of a huge European elm, trying to shake the sense of grief that had gripped her for the last several days. "Too darn bad." "But the song says damn , Mom." "I know, but damn is not a polite word for six-year-old boys." "How come?" "It just isn't." She was not in the mood to argue. "There's Mrs. M'Phearson Jagger," announced Dylan. There was a time when she found the way he said things adorable--sweet baby-talk artifacts that she'd let go by. But the specialist had said that they had to work at this together, even if it meant correcting him every time. " You have to keep after him. He has to hear the rules in action so they'll sink in ." "Jag-WHAR," she corrected. "And it's Mrs. MacPhearson's Jaguar." She emphasized the s . "Jag-WHAR, but I like Jagger better. 'Now, ain't that too damn bad?'" he sang. Rachel parked next to the green Jaguar alongside of the clubhouse, a sprawling and elegant white structure that appeared to glow against the emerald fairways that rolled away to the sea. For a moment, Rachel stared through the windshield at the dappled sunlight playing across the gold-lacquered hood. Sitting in her big shiny Maxima, dressed in her white DKNY sundress and Movado watch and Ferragamo sandals, her sculpted raven hair and discreet black glasses, she would, to the casual observer, appear to be a woman who had it all--a woman blessed by fortune, a woman of rare privilege, a woman who saw nothing but endless blue skies above her head. And Rachel Whitman did have it all--health, a successful marriage, money, a beautiful new home in one of the flossiest North Shore suburbs, and an adorable little boy. Or almost all… It wasn't as if they'd found a dysfunctional kidney. Just a setback that they would make the best of . "Mom, do I have to go?" Dylan looked up at her with those gorgeous green eyes. So full of depth. "But you like DellKids." "Yeah, but I don't like her. I don't wanna go." His mouth began to quiver as he fought back tears. "Who?" He looked out his window and took a couple deep breaths to control himself. "You mean Miss Jean?" Rachel asked. Miss Jean was one of the day-care counselors. Her yellow VW Bug was parked nearby. "No, Lucinda. I don't like her." His eyes began to fill up. "Lucinda MacPhearson?" "I hate her. She's mean." Lucinda was Sheila's seven-year-old daughter--and one of the twelve kids in DellKids, a day-care center located in a separate wing of the clubhouse. Since school let out last week, Dylan was attending it full-time now. Because the waiting list for full club membership was years long, Rachel and Martin had purchased a social membership which allowed them dining, pool, and tennis privileges, as well as DellKids. That was fine with Rachel who didn't play golf. "How is she mean?" Dylan didn't answer nor did he have to. Rachel knew and felt the heat of irritation rise. Lucinda was a very bright child, but she was bossy and a know-it-all. Like an intolerant schoolmarm, she would hold forth with Dylan and the other kids on operating computer games or fashioning Play-Doh. Dylan was too proud to admit how the little brat had humiliated him. "Do you want to tell me what she said?" It crossed her mind to speak to Sheila, though it would be awkward since Sheila had sold them their house and sponsored their Dells membership. But Dylan didn't respond. Something out the window had caught his attention. "What's that man doing?" he asked. One of the waiters, a big kid in his teens, was standing half-hidden behind a tree outside the kitchen and staring through field glasses at a girl sunning herself on a poolside lounge chair. While Rachel watched, the boy suddenly slapped himself in the face. For a moment Rachel thought she was seeing things. But he did it again--he slapped himself in the face. Then again and again--all the while peering through the field glasses at the girl by the pool. "Why he hitted himself?" But Rachel didn't have an answer. Nor did she correct Dylan. Nor was she sure if she should do something. She thought about getting out of the car and approaching him, but then what? " Gee, young man, you really shouldn't be whacking your face like that ." What if he suddenly turned on her? The kid clearly looked disturbed. And yet, there was something bizarrely purposeful in his behavior--the way he kept studying the girl between slaps, as if waiting for a reaction from her. Or maybe punishing himself for Peeping Tom thoughts. "I don't know," Rachel muttered and got out. The sound of the closing doors alerted the kid. He shot them a look as they moved toward the clubhouse, then disappeared into the kitchen, leaving Rachel and Dylan wondering what that was all about. "Is he a crazy man, Mom?" "I don't know, but I think we better get inside before we're late." She hustled Dylan to their entrance, hoping that the waiter would be confined to the kitchen and not wander into the day-care center. "You know what I think?" he said as they moved inside. "I think he a dummy ." "Don't use that word." * * * Sheila was at their usual table beside the one-way windows through which they could watch their kids. The playroom was a large colorful open area with small tables and chairs scattered about, computer terminals, plants, books, posters, cages with turtles, and a huge brown rabbit. It had been carefully designed for a bright nurturing atmosphere. Miss Jean, like her assistant, was a former elementary-school teacher who had been hired full-time by the club. Together they made of DellKids an enlightened center for members' children. And three years ago it was awarded full day-care licensing by the state. Rachel watched through the window as Jean gathered the children around one of the several computers. While she explained the particular program, the kids listened. All but Dylan, that is. He was making faces at another boy to get him to laugh. A couple of times Miss Jean had to ask Dylan to stop his antics and listen up. After a few minutes, they broke up into groups of twos and, thankfully, he was teamed up with a sweet little girl named Shannon. The boy from out back stepped through the kitchen door carrying a tray of food for people at another table. "I see we've got a new waiter," Rachel said. "Oh, that's just Brendan LaMotte," Sheila said. "His grandfather used to be the club plumber and got him a job as a caddy, but they moved him inside because they needed an extra body." Brendan was a large sullen-looking kid, probably from one of the local high schools. "Is he…okay?" "What do you mean?" "Well, he seems rather weird. As we were coming in, he was out back slapping himself in the face." "What?" Rachel described the scene with the girl and field glasses. "Hormones," Sheila said with a dismissive gesture. "Actually he's kind of a sad case. His parents were killed in a car accident a few years ago, and he's living alone with his grandfather. He's a little strange, but he's perfectly harmless. So, how's Martin's new business venture doing?" Rachel took the invitation to change the subject. "Fine, but I hardly ever see him." Over the last two years, Martin's recruitment business had expanded phenomenally, moving out of a cramped office in Hanover to a fancy suite just off Memorial Drive in Cambridge. Out of the corner of her eye, Rachel saw Brendan approach their table. He was a tall, somewhat pudgy kid with a pimply round face, a shiny black ponytail, and intense black eyes. "Hey, Brendan. How you doing?" Sheila chortled, trying to warm him up. "F-fine," he said curtly. "Do you know Mrs. Whitman? She's a recent member." He glanced at Rachel with those laser eyes. "I know who she is." Something about his wording sent an unpleasant ripple through Rachel. "I'll have the usual," Sheila said. "Whole wheat English m-muffin, split, toasted medium-well, a half-pad of margarine, fruit cup--no maraschino cherries--decaf hazelnut with skim milk, small glass of vanilla-flavored soy milk." His slight stuttering disappeared as he rattled all that off, while the braces on his teeth flashed, adding to his robotic delivery. Sheila smiled. "You got it." He turned to Rachel. "You?" His manner was so blunt and his expression so intense that Rachel was momentarily thrown off. "I'll have a cappuccino and a bagel, please." He made an impatient sigh. "We have p-plain, sesame, raisin, poppy seed, sunflower seed, salt, egg, sun-dried tomato, onion, garlic, four-grain, and everything which includes garlic, onion, poppy and sesame seeds, and salt but not the other ingredients." It was like being addressed by a machine. "Raisin." "Cream cheese?" "Yes, please, on the side." "Regular or fat-free, which is thirty calories for two tablespoons versus a hundred for regular, and five milligrams of cholesterol, but of course you get the xanthan and carob-bean gums plus potassium sorbate and sodium tripolyphosphate and all the artificial flavors and colors. Suit yourself." Rachel began to smile, thinking that he was joking--that he was doing some kind of Jim-Carrey-waiter-from-hell routine the way he rattled that off with edgy rote. But nothing in his expression said he was playacting. His face remained impassive, the only thing moving was his mouth and that bizarre tic: While he spoke his left eyelid kept flickering as if trying to ward off a gnat. Rachel also noticed that he had no order pad or pen to record the orders. She preferred the fat-free but didn't want to set him off. "I'll have the regular." "Toasted?" "Yes." "Light, dark, or medium?" She did not dare question the options. "Medium." "Orange juice?" "Yes, please." "It's fresh squeezed, not from concentrate, but it's Stop and Shop not Tropicana premium. You still want it?" "I guess. Yes." "Is that all?" "Yes, please, thank you," Rachel gasped. He then turned on his heel and slouched back into the kitchen. Rachel saucered her eyes. "My God! I feel as if I've just been interrogated." Sheila chuckled. "He is a tad intense." "A tad? Someone get him a straitjacket." "It could be worse. He could be your caddy. Ask him for advice on a club and he'll cite everything from barometric pressure and dew point to the latest comparative test data on shaft technology. He's a walking encyclopedia. He also has a photographic memory." "I noticed he didn't write down our orders." "He never does." A kid with a photographic memory who smashes himself in the face while ogling girls through field glasses . "He can also recite Shakespeare by the pound. In summer stock last year they did Romeo and Juliet and he ended up memorizing every part. He's amazing." "Where does he go to school?" "He dropped out." "Lucky for his teachers," Rachel said, and looked over Sheila's shoulder through the one-way glass. Her stomach knotted. Lucinda had wandered over to Dylan and Shannon's computer and parked herself at their desk, explaining something that they apparently couldn't get right. As she watched, Rachel felt a wave of sadness flush over her resentment. While she wanted to go in there and shake Lucinda, the girl's confidence had clearly left poor Dylan in the shadows. While eager to be with it , his frustration had reduced him to making goofy faces and sounds to deflect attention--a measure that pained Rachel for its desperation. Some of the nearby kids laughed, but not Lucinda, who chided Dylan so that Miss Jean had to come over and ask him to settle down. She then took Dylan and Shannon to a free terminal and reexplained the procedure. Rachel tried to hold tight, but she could feel the press of tears. Dylan was out of his league in there. He had a great singing voice, and she had thought someday to enroll him in a children's choir, but he was not one of those "cyberbrats," as Martin called them. Dylan was adorable and sociable and funny, but he lacked the focus of these other kids. Yes, she chided herself for making comparisons even though every other parent did the same thing--gauged their own against the competition: OPK, as Martin labeled them--"other people's kids." Yes, she reminded herself that what mattered was his happiness. But in a flash-glimpse down the long corridor of time, she saw how hard life was going to be for him, especially being brought up in a community that thrived on merit. "Was it something I said?" Sheila asked, noticing tears pool in Rachel's eyes. "No, of course not." Rachel paused to compose herself as Brendan delivered the coffees then moved off to adjust the dinnerware at a nearby table. She took a sip. "It's Dylan. He's fine…just fine…healthwise, thank God. It's just that he's got some learning disabilities." "He has?" Rachel had known Sheila for only a few months, but she felt comfortable confiding in her. It was Sheila who had helped them get settled in town. Besides, all of Rachel's old friends were fifty miles or more from here; and her mother lived in Phoenix, and her brother Jack, in San Diego. "He's having difficulty reading," she said. "He tries, but he has problems connecting written words to sounds." "Give him a break! He's only six years old. Some kids start later than others." "I guess, but he's a bit behind." The reality was that the other kids in his class were miles beyond him. She and Martin had hoped to get him into Beaver Hill, a well-respected private elementary school where Lucinda was enrolled, but he didn't pass the entrance tests. So they enrolled him at Marsden Public Elementary. Only a month into the school year, and his teacher had alerted Rachel to his language difficulties and problems following simple instructions. "Have you tried those phonics books and tapes?" Sheila asked. "We've got all of them--books, tapes, videos. You name it. We even have a language therapist. He's got some kind of blockage or whatever. He doesn't get it." "But he will. All kids do. He's just a late bloomer. In ten years he'll probably be a published author like Vanessa Watts's son, Julian. Didn't talk until he was four, and at age thirteen he wrote a book about mazes. I don't know anything about them, but I guess there's a whole bunch of maze freaks out there. Whatever, he got it published and had all this press." Rachel nodded but felt little consolation. "You know, you could have him evaluated to see what his skills and problems are." "We did all that already." She had even arranged an MRI scan the other day, although she did not mention that to Sheila. In fact, she hadn't even told Martin. "I see." Rachel could sense Sheila's curiosity, wondering how he had tested. But Rachel would not betray him. Although Rachel questioned the validity of IQ tests, there was something terribly definitive about them--like fingerprints or Universal Product Codes. Once the number was out, a person was forever ranked. Hi, my name is Dylan Whitman and I'm an 83, seventeen points below the national average . "I know I'm being foolish," Rachel said, struggling to maintain composure. "It's not like he has some terrible disease, for God's sake." "That's right, and you keep telling yourself that. Test scores aren't everything." Easy for you to say with your little whiz kid in there , Rachel thought sourly. Sheila was right, of course--and were they still living in Rockville, she wouldn't have been so aware. But this was a town of trophy houses and trophy kids--a town where the rewards for intelligence were in-your-face conspicuous. Hawthorne was an upscale middle-class community of professional people, all smart and well educated. To make matters worse, Dylan was now surrounded by high-pedigree children, bred for success by ambitious parents who knew just how clever their kids were and where they stood against the competition: which kids were the earliest readers, who got what on the SATs, who ranked where in their class, who got into the hot schools. Suddenly Rachel missed Rockville with its aluminum-sided Capes and pitching nets, tire swings, and kids who played street hockey until they glowed. Where the only scores that mattered were how the Sox, Bruins, and Celtics did, not your verbal and math; where the pickup trucks sported Harley-Davidson logos and bumper stickers that said KISS MY BASS and SAVE THE ALES unlike all the high-end vehicles outside with stethoscopes hanging from the rearview mirrors and windows emblazoned with shields from Bloomfield Preparatory Academy, Harvard, and Draper Labs, and Nantucket residency permits. She looked out the window onto the splendidly manicured course with its two pools and tennis courts and showplace clubhouse. She felt out of place. The Dells was one of the most exclusive country clubs in New England; and now that Martin's company had taken off they could afford the privileged life for their son. How ironic it seemed, given their expectations and presumptions. Rachel and Martin had both graduated from college so Dylan's limitations were as much of a surprise as they were distressing. Even worse, they made her feel that the perimeters of their lives had been irrevocably altered. You did this to him , whispered a voice in her head. No! NO! And she shook it away. Outside a green Dells CC truck pulled up with two greenskeepers. The men got out. They were dressed in jeans and the green and white DCC pullovers. One of them said something that made the other man break up. As she sipped her cappuccino and watched them unload a lawnmower, Rachel could not help but think how she was glimpsing her son's destiny--a life of pickup trucks, lawnmowers, and subsistence wages. "I guess I just didn't do enough," Rachel said. "Like what?" Sheila said. "Like when he was a baby. I guess I didn't give him a rich enough environment. But I tried. I read all the zero-to-three books about brain growth and early childhood development. I talked and sang to him, I read him stories when he was two months old--all that stuff." They had bought him Jump-Start Toddlers and other computer games, Baby Bach, Baby Shakespeare and Baby Einstein toys. When he took a nap, she played classical music. From his infancy, she read him poetry because the books said how babies learn through repetition, and that repeated rhymes, like music at an early age, are supposed to increase the spatial-temporal reasoning powers. She breast-fed him because of a Newsweek story on how breast-fed babies scored higher on intelligence tests than those formula-fed--as silly as that had seemed. Newsweek . The very thought of the magazine made her stomach grind. No! Just a coincidence , she told herself. Not true . Tears flooded Rachel's eyes. "And now it's too late. He turned six last month." Sheila laid her hand on Rachel's. "Pardon my French, but those first-three-years books are bullshit. All they do is put a guilt trip on parents. I bet if you took twins at birth and played Mozart and read Shakespeare around the clock to one for three years and raised the other normally you wouldn't see a goddamn difference when they were six. You didn't fail, Rachel, believe me." Rachel wiped her eyes and smiled weakly. "Something went wrong." "Nothing went wrong." Something terribly wrong . Rachel nodded and looked away to change the subject. They were having two different conversations. Sheila did not understand. Through the window, Lucinda was explaining something to the girl next to her. Sheila took the hint. "By the way, Lucinda's having a birthday party a week from Saturday. It's going to be an all-girl thing--her idea. But, in any case, I'm getting her a kitten." "Oh, how sweet." "It'll be her first pet. I think kids need pets--don't you? Something to, you know, love unconditionally?" "Yes, of course. Dylan has gerbils and he's crazy about them." At a nearby table, Brendan was arranging the dinnerware. To distract herself, Rachel watched him without thought. He was putting out dinnerware, all the time muttering to himself just below audibility--his mouth moving, braces flashing, his eye twitching. He looked possessed. "The poor kid's a basket case," she whispered to Sheila, thinking that it could be worse. At least Dylan was a happy child. "I guess," Sheila said vaguely. She checked her watch. There was another hour and a half of day care, so Sheila was going to go to her office in the interim, while Rachel would sit outside with a book until Dylan was out. As they left the building, Rachel's cell phone chirped in her handbag. The call was from Dr. Rose's office. The secretary said that Dylan's MRI results were back. "He'd like to make an appointment to see you and discuss them." Rachel felt a shock to her chest. Discuss them ? "Is everything all right?" "I'm sure, but he can see you tomorrow at ten." "Can I speak with him?" "I'm sorry, he's out of the office on an emergency and probably won't be back for the rest of the day. Is ten tomorrow good for you?" "Yes, ten's fine," she gasped and clicked off. Oh, my God . Copyright © 2002 by Gary Goshgarian Excerpted from Gray Matter by Gary Braver All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.