Henry Moss, a geneticist studying an obscure genetic disease called Hickman that accelerates old age in children, thinks he has found the cure. Throughout the story, he will battle against ethical questions, such as direct human trials of the drug, and profiting from the disease. Woven into Henry’s questions about life are his wife’s and children’s struggles about their own life: getting old or older, and what that means to them, the transformations, the dilemmas, the trying to define or redefine who they are.
The premise of the story is fascinating and topical. The counterpoint of a child growing old too fast because of the disease and normal children growing too fast from a parent’s perspective is also well done. Nevertheless, there is something missing in the story, and I’m not sure I can pinpoint what it is.
The book is too long and needed a better edit. I sometimes felt that Byers had fallen in love with his own words, forgetting about his story. The prose generally flows well, then all of a sudden it becomes lyrical and overflowery, or dense and obscure. These bits read like experiments, and pretentious. I would lose patience with these passages that added nothing to the story and made me stumble. After a while, I’d see them coming and would skip them.
The ending is equally disappointing: there is no resolution of Henry’s ethical dilemma –just a giving in and a return to normalcy. Life goes on, as if the life-giving possibility had been a TV episode, watched and forgotten.
There is the –clichÃ©ed– message that all our experiences forge who we are, but there is a sense of unfinishness to the story, a sense that something crucial was left out. Sure, it’s what life is often about, but, somehow, I expected more from such a huge, important, topical issue in a hefty story.