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Reviewed by Joel R. Dennstedt for Readers' Favorite
The instant one gets past the nearly bloodless clinical opening of The Atheist and the Parrotfish, a most surprising novel by Richard Barager about a doctor and his transgender patient, the relentlessly engaging storyline grabs you by the privates and refuses to let you go. Impressively, the plot is less about the vagaries of transgender longings and obstructions – still, a vital part of this complex story - than it is about organ transplants and the possible transmigration of the donor’s soul. Ennis (Elaine) Willoughby, the central character, who shares both male and female longings and affectations, requires and endures at the ripe old age of 63 a dual organ replacement for his kidney and his heart, ironically provided by a full-fledged woman prematurely dead, a fact he should not know with such specific knowledge, but also delivered in his dreams accompanied by her name, Carla, which he strictly is not allowed to know.
Ennis (Elaine) and now Carla are under the therapeutic care of a psychiatrist compassionate toward his/her sexual identification, but not at all toward his revelation of soul possession and manipulative transformation by the organs’ donor, and Doctor Cullen Brodie, the patient’s nephrologist, who simply does not believe in souls, much less God. Thus we have The Atheist and the Parrotfish (a natural sexual chameleon) as imagined by the writer/weaver Richard Barager, intertwined despite their opposite beliefs. Lushly charactered with complicated souls, several more than those already mentioned, Barager’s exploration of human relationships, beliefs, and compulsions creates an interesting tapestry of human interaction and emotion, and culminates clearly with a conclusion highly satisfactory to the reader.