Pale Highway By Nicholas Conley

pale

The panoramic view from the windows of the Bright New Day Nursing Center offers stupendous views of the restless, turbulent Atlantic Ocean — but none of the briny, ever-so-salty air that Gabriel Schist craves.

He can’t leave the facility. He has Alzheimer’s, and the world has become an endless series of prisons — his stark little room, the common area dotted with other hopeless patients, and, of course, his own body, which has, in the end, betrayed him and exiled him to this endless netherworld where he resides, neither living not dead.

Pale Highway is the poignant story of one man’s journey into that cold, lonely, ever-narrowing corridor called Alzheimer’s. His attendants patronize him, his roommate talks too loud, and his daughter dutifully visits — but not too often, because the place depresses her almost as much as it saddens him

Author Nicholas Conley has clearly been a caregiver at some point for someone with this debilitating condition. He writes eloquently of the emotions and daily indignities endured by patients around the world. This story puts a face on the disease, and forces the reader to climb inside the disoriented body of Nobel-winning resident and famed microbiologist Gabriel Schist — the man who cured AIDS in this fictional tale set in the near future.

The writing is painstakingly vivid, evoking unexpected emotions from the reader that cut like the point of a serrated blade:

“Somewhere in the distance, the Crooner’s never-ending singsong echoed through the halls. Looking to his side, Gabriel noticed that Edna Foster had rolled her wheelchair up next to him. Her sons were gone, too. Together, they were childless parents of parentless children.”

And, so go the days, one folding endlessly into another — until fellow resident John Morris contracts what is euphemistically being called the Black Virus. Gabriel is galvanized into action, trying to persuade the nursing home’s staff to let him crack the code that will provide a desperately needed cure.

But, once again, Schist’s body betrays him, and he finds himself battling his own mental shortcomings as he searches for the elusive microbiological solution. He begins talking to the ever-present slugs that infest the nursing home — and they talk back to him! Reluctantly, they even agree to help in his quest for the cure.

This brilliant sci-fi work is a tour-de-force of great writing and meticulous research, all wrapped in a scientific thriller that will have you hoping that Gabriel can solve the life-threatening dilemma before it’s too late — both for him, and for mankind.

Five stars-plus for Pale Highway. It is a striking example of what can be achieved when imaginative writers tackle socially significant themes. We’re all the beneficiaries.

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