In his debut novel without anesthesia, Pedram Navab is able to construct a narrative with an intense urgency to connect plot lines and make meaning of his characters' obsessive practices to claim identity. The multi-genre narrative is structured with three major threads: Adrien, a doctor who falls in love with a cadaver; Tess, a med student desperate to connect with her patients and become the best doctor she can be; and a failing actor who desperately seeks an audience. While these threads interweave creating a cohesive story, a narrative in the background reveals itself as a symbol of each character’s identity struggles.
Readers’ stomachs will churn when characters perform brutal procedures and acts of violence to alter who they are and gain attention from willing audiences. As a board certified neurologist, Navab is not afraid bring his medical background into his character's actions. These actions are not limited to injecting oneself with feces in order to experience the illnesses of patients, or stabbing oneself and screaming for an audience to take notice of an actor in a false crime of theatrics. Some characters even take measures to alter their bodily makeup, transforming themselves into larger than life characters. This includes reviving a dead woman by becoming her, using her body parts as extensions of her identity.
The book embodies the characters’ identity struggles by exploring its own visual identity, trying on many designs. Some sections include blood stained pages to complement surgical procedures; others feature illustrations that bring to life concrete items that play roles in the featured narratives. It is a book as vulnerable as flesh and human emotion. It is unnerving and brilliant how the text performs in human ways, figuring out who it is by exploring identities and altering itself from epistolary novel to bolded text of insanity; from archived medical records to excerpts of journaled narration and more. If readers are not already captivated by the characters, they will be by the physical pages of the book.
These constant changes in design and genre provide a means for close reading that helps draws attention to Navab’s use of synthetic text to address both his characters and audience. We read, “We tugged on your heartstring today” after the protagonist’s love for his dead medical subject is revealed and our hearts are prodded. We read, “You are now so open to me … There are things in store for you,” as the text asks its readers to join it in its explorations. This proposal is like an admission ticket to a dark carnival ride—step right in, no refund, no safe word. And Navab only confirms our decision to read a powerful and whip-lashing piece when the wheels of the cart spins—“Not until then did I realize the undertaking we had commenced.”
without anesthesia is a work that will not disappoint, forcing readers to relive their lives with recognition to the identities we have subscribed to and questioning what it means to be our authentic selves.