The Atheist and the Parrotfish by Richard Barager


Reviewed by Chris Phillips

The Atheist and the ParrotfishThere is nothing common with this novel. The characters are introduced and developed throughout the story because they change from what they were at the beginning into what they become at the end of the tale.

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Cullen Brodie is an accomplished and successful nephrologist. He has spent his life working to save people’s lives when their kidneys fail. He has helped hundreds of patients to live longer and also found replacement kidneys for many of those patients. He now encounters a specific patient that he has never encountered.

Thomas Lawson is the chaplain in the hospital where Cullen practices.

There is a problem with these two, because Cullen is an avowed active atheist. He is good at what he does and doesn’t believe that God is involved at all in the process.

Now comes into Ennis Willoughby. He is a patient doing dialysis regularly to prolong his life until, if and only if, a donor is found. He is 63 years old. He is a crossdressing transgender male trying to identify and reconcile with the female that lives within him all the time. Initially, he was considered ineligible for transplant because of psychological difficulties. But after counselling he is reconsidered.

The action starts in truth when a transplant becomes available for Ennis. He is going to receive a heart and kidney from a recent accident victim, a miracle in terms of Ennis’ life and a miraculous situation for the medical professionals involved. The only truly unusual situation is the donor is the executive assistant for the head of the practice Cullen now works for. Carla MacGregor, is happily married to the heir apparent of the practice.

Now the whole situation becomes entangled.

With Cullen’s atheism, Carla’s donated organs and Ennis the grateful recipient of those organs, everything goes very well. Until Ennis begins to change habits and his life preferences because of a “Carla” speaking to him from his new organs.

This then becomes a spiritual journey for everyone, and oddly enough, even the donor, Carla. There are several locations for all this activity, including one of the islands in the Cook Island chain. Each is described well enough to stir desires for tropical paradise in future vacation plans.

One difficulty that prompted a need to reread the book is the chronology of the developments. Chronology changes cause disjointed understanding of the action. Did this occur now? Did this occur in the past? Is this something that hasn’t occurred at all?

The second situation is the use of unusual words to describe the story. From “eczematous” in the first chapter to “plumeria” in the last paragraph, the author introduces the reader to words that required this reviewer to keep the dictionary app open and ready throughout the reading of this novel.

Despite these two deterrents the book is well written, the characters well developed and the plot complex and interwoven to a delicious degree. It is a great read and helps the reader confront their own spirituality and their own identity with respect to the lives of those around them and with special needs or situations impacting life and even spirituality.