In my opinion the title of the book is incorrect it should be The Beneficiary but I’m sure the author would debate that. If you want to be stimulated or excited or enthralled about a piece of literature, don’t read this book. I became more and more depressed as I read and was quite morose by the time I finished. I guess we could call it a work of literary fiction in that it is self centered, dark and leaves you with a feeling of anxiety.
The main character is Joseph Geist. He is a doctoral student in Philosophy at Harvard whose major professor and advisor has died. He has been assigned an advisor who does not want to take him on and has a dim view of his talent, academic credentials and prospects. Dr. Linda Neiman, however, has some objective reasons why she rejects Joseph. He has been hanging around the Philosophy Department for 8 years supposedly working on his dissertation and receiving research and travel grants and teaching fellowships while making little if any progress on his thesis.
I have gone through the process while working for the Ph.D. at the University of Southern California. You definitely have to have a sympathetic major professor and advisor to complete the process. Fifty percent of doctoral candidates complete all their course work examinations and interviews and never finish the dissertation. You have to set your own schedule to meet very loose and sometimes confusing guidelines that are set by the graduate school and your own department. All this is on your own initiative and after years of academic regimentation you have to discipline yourself to complete the job.
Our protagonist Joseph can’t seem to do this and is suspended as a doctoral candidate. The plight of Joseph is a realistic one. In addition, he has been sponging off his girlfriend and living in her apartment. She becomes fed up and throws him out.
He lives with a buddy for a while until that also proves untenable. Desperate, he accepts a job as a “Conversationalist” with an elderly and mysterious woman named Alma Speilmann. She befriends him and as part of his pay allows him to live in a small apartment in her home. She is ill with some mysterious disease and her physician, Dr. Cargill, won’t discuss it with Joseph even though Alma has frequent bouts of pain, disorientation and exhaustion. Joseph works for her for several months and becomes quite settled in the situation until Alma’s’ nephew Eric appears. This stranger interrupts the cozy relationship that Joseph has with Alma. He discovers that Eric is a ner-do- well who lives a life bordering on criminality and who Alma supports. Joseph begins to resent the relationship between Alma and Eric and this change in his situation.
Even though the relationship between Joseph and the nephew is toxic, Eric cozies up to Joseph. His intent is nefarious as he hints to Joseph that they ought to hurry along Alma’s death so that they both can share in her estate. After all she’s in such pain and won’t live long anyway.
Joseph rejects the idea and Eric but when he returns from a family memorial for his dead brother, he finds that Alma has died or committed suicide. Joseph is investigated but is cleared of any involvement in her death.
She has left a note telling him to contact her attorney. Much to his surprise she has willed him her house and most of her estate. However, he can only claim the estate if he finishes his dissertation and earns his doctoral degree within two years. Joseph can’t seem to complete his own dissertation and in a desperate act plagiarizes a dissertation that Alma wrote but never turned in.
Eric reenters the picture seeking a share in the proceeds of the estate. Joseph shuns Eric. This leads Eric to burglarize and vandalize Alma’s house. Joseph confronts him and the result is violence, murder, a cover-up and Joseph’s life in shambles.
The whole book is written in first person and is essentially an autobiography of the main character as he moves through his dismal life while making one disastrous decision after another. I cannot recommend this book. It seems to me that it was published based on the Kellerman name and the author’s reputation. In addition, the $25.95 price of the book is absurd. If you insist on becoming depressed or morose wait until the book appears in the left over bin at Walmart, Kmart or Barnes and Noble and buy it for $3.95.
However, If you are compelled to spend $25.95, go look for a James Patterson or Michael Connelly book.