Dr. Steve Miller, a 38-year old biomedical researcher, is struggling for tenure, a cure for manic-depressive bipolar disorder, and balance in his life- not necessarily in that order. Confronted with difficult odds, Steve is fighting for his scientific career, surrounded by an eccentric and often comical cast of researchers in his laboratory, department and institute. Despite his almost obsessive preoccupation with tenure and securing his position, Steve is inevitably plunged back in time to his traumatic childhood with a father suffering from bipolar disorder, a largely absentee mother, and a loving but dominant grandfather. As Steve realizes that he cannot escape his childhood memories, his past catches up with the present and merges in an unexpected and breath-stopping finish.
Matter Over Mind is a multi-layered story that gives an in-depth but humorous view of academic scientists who are at the forefront of biomedical research. However, Matter Over Mind goes far beyond a typical glimpse behind the scenes at an academic institution- it describes the traumatic childhood and family dysfunction resulting from a parent with debilitating bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depressive disorder). Although this mental illness has been often ignored and treated as a rare affliction, in actuality it has been the cause of numerous broken families and its presentation has been a source for a multitude of psychologically impacted family members.
In this fascinating novel, Steve Caplan has intricately interwoven the manifestations of bipolar syndrome into a clever plot set in a present day scientific institution. Spiced with humor and wit, the novel examines the impact of one’s past on his present predicament and the degree to which people are in control of their own destinies.
Book reviews: Matter Over Mind
“Matter Over Mind by Steven Caplan is one of those rare books that brings you so deep into the mind of a fascinating character that you don’t ever want to leave. In addition to providing a fast-paced story full of angst, humor, romance, and heart-breaking flashbacks, Caplan skillfully coaxes us into an elevated realm where it’s impossible not to ponder provocative issues we all face – or should face. And to top it off, Matter Over Mind has an ending that will leave you breathless. Highly recommended!”
-Boston Literary Magazine
“This short novel is an engaging and well-told story about Steve, a scientist at a critical point in his career and his personal life. He is a newish laboratory head, trying to make a name for himself as a researcher and thence to attain his dream – the holy grail of tenure. His research is on the molecular aspects of depressive disorders. The book chronicles his day-to-day activities: dealing with a stream of email messages, searching and reading the scientific literature, planning and running experiments, attending various meetings and discussing scientific results. He also has to handle crises with University bureaucracy, and squabbles within his lab and between his lab and other labs, particularly the large, well-funded and arrogant group of Prof Lewis Smithers.
In his personal life we learn about his ex-wife, and more or less serious liaisons with a couple of other women. There are flashbacks to his childhood and adolescent years where we hear about his depressive father and consequent difficult home life, his beloved grandpa, early experiences with girls and with bullies. Not surprisingly, we also learn that he himself now suffers from depression.
Between these different strands of work, love and family Caplan skillfully weaves his tale, keeping the action moving and the reader interested, with realistic and sparkling dialogue.”
Matter over mind by Steve Caplan was published in 2010.
This essay was published in the Mill Hill Essays 2013
“An excellent novel and fun to read. For those of us in science, I believe you will truly enjoy it, and find many characters you have met along the career pathway to tenure. Didn’t put it down and read it in a day.”