Donovan’s Brain by Curt Siodmak. Knopf (1943), 234 pp.
Driven by the belief he’s on the verge of a scientific breakthrough, Patrick Cory conducts brain research from his home in a small Arizona town. He has no interest in Janice, his adamantly loyal wife, and no respect for Dr. Schratt, his occasional but disapproving collaborator. One night, when Schratt is too drunk to do the job himself, Cory goes to the site of a plane crash. Among the injured he finds famed Los Angeles business tycoon W. H. Donovan. Although Cory has the man taken to town, he can do little to prolong Donovan’s life. He can, however, commandeer his still functioning brain, which seems perfect for research. With Schratt’s help, this is just what Cory does. But the resulting experiments work out differently from his expectations.
Readers will need to cut Siodmak some slack if they are to fully appreciate this novel. Despite the author’s best efforts, some of what happens simply doesn’t make sense. Even so, the book’s major plot point remains interesting even if plot twists are doubtful. Cory tells the story through journal entries. This approach gives the narrative an appropriately dispassionate and scientific tone. It also prevents Cory (though not the author) from foreshadowing events, since he doesn’t know what’s going to happen next. Lost as a result is some of the scariness that might be expected as the brain becomes more and more unruly. The author eventually blames everything on scientific arrogance, an idea that seems dependent on the amount of the aforementioned slack-cutting. The novel was adapted for the screen three times. And, for the record, the setting switches to California about a third of the way through the book.