The Man Without a Shadow by Joyce Carol Oates

In 1965, neuroscientist Margot Sharpe meets Elihu Hoopes: the “man without a shadow,” who will be known, in time, as the most-studied and most famous amnesiac in history. A vicious infection has clouded anything beyond the last seventy seconds just beyond the fog of memory.

Over the course of thirty years, the two embark on mirrored journeys of self-discovery: Margot, enthralled by her charming, mysterious, and deeply lonely patient, as well as her officious supervisor, attempts to unlock Eli’s shuttered memories of a childhood trauma without losing her own sense of self in the process. Made vivid by Oates’ usual eye for detail, and searing insight into the human psyche, The Man Without a Shadow is eerie, ambitious, and structurally complex, unique among her novels for its intimate portrayal of a forbidden relationship that can never be publicly revealed.


I thought this was a really interesting premise for a story. I thought the characters were remarkably well developed. The developing relationship between the two main characters, Eli and Margot, was intriguing. At times the story was repetitive, but I think that was done to give the reader a sense of what Eli’s life was like. I wish Oates had given us more in terms of the flashbacks from Eli’s past. I thought that part of the narrative was particularly interesting, but at times it gave the overall narrative a choppy feeling because of the way that they were dispersed throughout the story. In the end, I liked the book, but I wasn’t crazy about it. The idea behind the story was really interesting, but the narrative itself fell short in fully capturing my admiration.

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