Jeffrey Moore’s erudite novel The Memory Artists, newly out in paperback from St. Martin’s Griffin, uses an intriguing cast of characters to examine the peculiarities of the mind. Noel Burun is a hyperintelligent but emotionally addled thirtysomething synesthete–he experiences sounds as colors. He’s also hypermnesic, blessed (or afflicted) with near perfect recall. At the other extreme is his beloved mother, Stella, a history teacher suffering from Alzheimer’s. With a gift for chemistry that had been encouraged by his melancholic father (a suicide), Noel spends untold hours in his basement lab trying to discover a cure for her. He’s encouraged by his friend Norval Xavier Blaquiere, a gorgeous, conceited, nihilistic actor-writer who’s bedding women alphabetically by first name as a piece of performance art (he has mother issues), and Samira Darwish, a semiamnesiac former actress hiding a part of her past she’d like to forget. They’re all patients of one Dr. Emile Vorta, a vain and unsavory neuropsychologist whose selfish motives don’t always work to the benefit of his charges, and who functions as a sort of offscreen commentator on their activities. Moore’s obviously done a lot of research to bolster his narrative, and his characters, unique as they are, are sympathetic, if sometimes exasperating. But the novel may be too damn erudite: there’s so much name- and title dropping and recitation of obscure poetry that I felt a little left out of the literary know-it-all loop. Moore appears along with debut novelist Marisha Pessl (Special Topics in Calamity Physics) as part of the “Literary Gangs of Chicago” series, this time curated by Tue 3/21, 6:30 PM, Museum of Contemporary Art, Puck’s at the MCA, 220 E. Chicago, 312-397-4010.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Terence Byrnes.