The Portman Pop Potboiler: Excerpts from Avner Hershlag's 'Misconception'

portman hershlag 0 The Portman Pop Potboiler: Excerpts from Avner Hershlag's 'Misconception'Today’s edition of The Observer broke the story of Avner Hershlag–proud papa of Natalie Portman–and his attempts to get his self-published novel picked up by a publishing house. (Interest is certainly high: The Observer has been contacted by publicists interested in representing Dr. Hershlag.)

But while Dr. Hershlag’s family ties make the work notable, the literary content here is of special value. The novel begins with a prologue in which an unnamed narrator is told by a doctor that he is in possession of a “micropenis and two microtesticles.” Here’s his medical exam:

This time I won’t let the doctor pull down my underwear. No way will this man feel my balls again and measure my penis with a yardstick. I hate him. I hate the clinic.

For six months, Mom’s been dragging me every week to this nightmare of a place, to see the awful doctor. The freezing stethoscope and his cold hands give me the creeps. Why would the bastard think his white coat gives him the right to embarrass me in front of the nurse, telling her with his smart-ass attitude to look at my private parts, pulling my elastic without permission? […]

Yessss. The blond nurse is back. Her hands are warm. Sure, take my bloodpressure. You want the other arm, too? She smells good. I wish she’d keep leaning over like that. Haven’t seen a better pair of legs-not ever. I wish this part of the visit would last forever.

Twenty-eight years later, a pair of doctors debate whether cloning is ethical, using a perhaps relevant example in the case of award-winning couple Natalie Portman and Benjamin Millipied:

“Do you realize the revolution that cloning is about to bring?” Nicholson now cracked what Cody considered a smile. “Breeding is for the birds, a bad genetic experiment. You start out mating two award-winning animals, and if you’re lucky, what do you get? An offspring like Cookie, as pretty as Mom and Dad or prettier. But then what? Its life span is bound to be shortened, because no one checked for the disease genes that are rampant in the breed.”

Nicholson is a man of vision, Cody pondered. Always thinks big.

Months later in a temporally fractured narrative, our heroine, Dr. Anya Krim arrives in a burst of narrative innovation:

Feinberg stepped down from the double stool and crowded her again.  “You were hired to work on stem-cell research and organ cloning. Instead, you’ve become the fertility guru to Capitol Hill and the White House. Don’t think you’ve become untouchable just because the First Lady hired you as her fertility doctor. We’ll finish this discussion later.” He thundered out as he had thundered in.

[…]

“Ambiguous genitalia,” [Krim] said. He nodded in agreement. They both knew what that meant. There was no way to tell Bonnie Marshall whether she’d just given birth to a boy or a girl.

We’d buy this airport novel! Dr. Hershlag has clearly brought his medical knowledge to bear upon the craft of writing–but he also seems to approach medicine as a literary critic. On his website, howfarwouldyougotohaveababy.com, he this offers medical advice: “And you know what they say, MEN ARE FROM MARS, WOMEN ARE FROM VENUS.  Have I already told you I hate clichés?  Well, I do.  But I have to admit, this is a good one.”

ddaddario@observer.com :: @DPD_