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By the time you get to the end of Fiona Maazel’s new novel, you’ll have a hard time remembering where you started. And that’s apropos, as much of “A Little More Human” is a memory puzzle, with a plot tightly wound around questions of mindfulness and forgetting. Right off, we have to ask: What has Phil Snyder, our hapless protagonist, done? And to whom? Why is his superhero costume torn and bloody and (yuck!) gummy? And where’s his horse?

Phil, when he’s not working for the Sarah Snyder Center for Enhancement Technology (SCET), plays the comic book character Brainstorm, whose superpower Phil happens to share: He can read minds, a gift that fair-minded Phil uses sparingly.

Last he remembers, he was in a bar, nursing a grudge against his wife, who has betrayed him with a vial of potent donor sperm. Mad and drunk as he was, he might’ve done anything. What’s more, Phil’s father, a co-founder of SCET, is mourning his wife’s untimely (and increasingly suspicious) death as he sinks into the forgetful fog of senile dementia.

Meanwhile, Ada, another 30-ish character having an early midlife crisis, is running a scam (of the help-me-claim-my-unexpected-inheritance-from-a-relative-in-Russia variety) on Phil’s friend and SCET colleague, Ben. But it’s her first scam, and for a good cause: Her mother’s new heart, courtesy of SCET, is dying for an ever greater fix of an exponentially addictive and outrageously expensive anti-rejection drug made by … SCET!

Maybe you’re beginning to get the picture. You surely will as the book, which begins in a veritable swamp of soul-searching, catapults onto a path of near-pure plot in a sprint to the end. The pivotal moment? Phil has a supposedly memory-enhancing chip implanted at SCET, only to find that it gives him the power to make others forget — and, of course, an urgent need for that scarce and powerful drug.

By then, we’re racing along the surface, which Fiona Maazel polishes to a fine finish — sometimes to forced effect: “In their thrall to the unknown strata of experience that bedrocked whatever they were saying today, there was, if not camaraderie, an unease that was better shared than endured alone.”

But more often the writing is bright and shiny, as fun to follow as that bouncing ball. Phil’s wife, on the sperm donor’s spawn: “So she stood there with her child latched to her breast in a bucket of oatmeal that was congealing around his body so that it almost held him upright, and had the thought that this could either be the apotheosis of her life — motherhood in all its absurdity — or the most massive puncturing of a dream anyone could have, because surely when she’d imagined nursing and coddling and fledging, she had not imagined this.”

Occasionally we dip into the shallow consciousness of Maazel’s characters, who think and talk like this: “ ‘I can’t make it without you,’ he said. ‘I know it hasn’t seemed like it for a while, but you are my life.’ ”

But mostly we skate on that bright surface, which in this novel’s terms makes a certain sense. If consciousness and experience are so suspect and subject to distortion, forgetting and loss, perhaps it’s better not to go too deep. If only we can remember that.

Ellen Akins is a writer in Wisconsin.

A Little More Human
By: Fiona Maazel.
Publisher: Graywolf Press, 346 pages, $16.

A Little More Human

By: Fiona Maazel.

Publisher: Graywolf Press, 346 pages, $16.