The distinguishing merit of Michael Ehrenreich’s first novel Amaranth (iUniverse Inc, Nebraska, 2005) is its striking modern realism. A rich imagery of modern city environment, modes of life, and tearing stresses of disease and ugliness make Ehrenreich’s literary fiction a 21st century classic.
Amaranth bears a mature plot. The first 50 pages reveal so much that it’s hard to anticipate the thematic passages as something still on their way. But more comes than one can anticipate. One can tell from the start that the story is nucleated around disease and ugliness, both physical and beyond. Dr. Bing Denton is a surgeon with magic hands who is struggling to save his professional life by putting up with the ugliness of surgical procedures and his family life by trying to be a husband and a father. Standing at the dichotomy of hurting and healing, Dr. Denton finds his teenage daughter, Liza, pregnant in a drug-induced coma. The surgeon extraordinaire has a mind left that presses on itself to remember any of his wife’s friends who might tell him how to reach her and tell her about their child. So much for the sickness of life!
The issue raised in the novel is the quest of beauty by one engulfed in a hollow of ugliness. True beauty must be found and at once since ugliness is contagious as flu. The latter spreads through individuals while the former sweeps generations. And so we meet Ehrenreich’s symbol of beauty amid the sickness, the artistic Deborah who is going to lose her breasts and beauty to cancer. How she heals is the modern-day miracle, the amaranth, of Ehrenreich’s work. As one approaches the end, it gets harder to take the eyes off the spell woven in print. Spiritual self is probed with the lancet of words, an art peculiar to the author’s own experience in medicine.
The feeling of continuity in the narrative is one thing a good novel needs. In Amaranth, the absence of page breaks and numbering or naming of chapters attains this, at least in part.
Amaranth’s audience is a mature, thoughtful, sensible adult who is ill at ease with the horrors of disease and ugly attitudes, a heart that seeks beauty in its pure form.