Friday, October 18, 2013

The Shakespeare Drug / K. Scot Macdonald

Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Genre: Science Fiction

Approximate word count: 90-95,000 words

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K. Scot Macdonald is the author of two novels, The Shakespeare Drug and In Justice Found, and a short story, In Pursuit of Perfection. He has also published articles in the Writers' Journal, two nonfiction books, and contributed to two other books.

Scot lives in the Los Angeles area with his wife, young daughter and two Scottish terriers, Argyll and Skye.


Julie Stein is a leading neurosurgeon, but her life’s desire is to write a novel. She lives with her son, Pete, a junior in high school driven by ambition to become a professional linebacker in the NFL. Neither of them is able to achieve their dreams with natural talent, so they turn to drugs. The story follows their journey and asks the question, how much would you sacrifice to achieve your dream.


The premise of this story attracted me—the idea that a drug could increase creativity enough to change a below-average writer into a Booker Prize candidate. The parallel issue faced by Julie’s son, who found himself unable to compete in his senior year because the boys challenging for his linebacker position as well as the running backs he was facing had boosted their bodies with steroids, was unexpected and added an interesting twist to the story.

But the read was a mixed bag for me. I enjoyed the neurosurgical details, and the Julie Stein character was a strong woman, well rounded and interesting. The in-game description of a number of plays during Pete’s high school football games, and the insidious  manner in which he’s almost forced to take steroids to keep his place in the team were also compelling aspects. But the story was repetitive. The author restated the main themes multiple times without offering more color or depth, and I found myself skip reading on a number of occasions: Julie’s rejection letters, her inner strife, and her side effects from the drugs, were all chewed over time and again. Pete’s angst about his inability to gain enough muscle, and his aggressiveness after he started using drugs, similarly were repeating themes.

The close of the story (perhaps the last ten percent) also dragged for me. This is a potted history of the character’s last thirty years. Because it’s delivered in narrative form, I found it difficult to connect. Other than both parties being tempted to return to the drugs only to fight the urge by repeating the mantra of their agreement, I’m not sure what the purpose of the backstory was.

The author did manage a nice emotional twist at the end.

Format/Typo Issues:

Too few to mention.

Rating: *** Three stars

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