Books: The Emancipating DEATH of a Boring Engineer
April 2, 2013
By Canadian Consulting Engineer
In the late 60s, Erich Segal wrote a short formula novel about untimely death entitled Love Story. The book opened with a line something like, "What can you say about a 25-year old girl who died?" He sold millions of copies and the movie script...
In the late 60s, Erich Segal wrote a short formula novel about untimely death entitled Love Story. The book opened with a line something like, “What can you say about a 25-year old girl who died?” He sold millions of copies and the movie script because his story appealed to every young man or woman in love, or wishing to be, to everyone who spent time on a college or university campus in the winter who was intrigued by the rich kid / poor kid match up, or who liked classical music or hockey. How could he miss? He didn’t.
Michel Bruneau has also written a formula book (with real formulae) about death, but one that will appeal to a much smaller audience. The Emancipating Death of a Boring Engineer is published by CePages Press (October 2012).
Dr. Bruneau, an engineer, who earned his B.Sc. from Laval, Quebec went on to earn a Masters and Ph.D in California, and is now a distinguished Professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering at the University of Buffalo.
In this, his second novel, Bruneau introduces us to our boring engineer who is already dead when the story opens. We learn that he died young and that he and his ex-wife Carmina were separated and completely estranged for 10 years. Do the math (and there’s plenty of that in the book) and we conclude that they were married only briefly and in their 20s.
So here’s the premise. Keene, our dead engineer leaves very explicit and bizarre instructions for the disposition of his remains and estate. The estate is to be turned into cash and burned unless his ex agrees to follow, in sequence, the instructions in the hands of the lawyer. Each instruction leads to a treasure hunt where some extraordinary event or encounter is revealed that suggests our engineer may not be so boring after all.
How none of these fantastic character-defining events ever came out during their brief relationship and marriage is the greatest mystery of all. Perhaps a friendly chat over coffee some mornings when they were married and maybe Carmina wouldn’t be his ex; just sayin’.
The author, through our boring engineer, who dabbles in numerology, finds ample soapboxes on which to rail against, and express his cynicism of, most things in life and death, including corporations, lawyers, criminals, religion, social orders etc. but interspersed with such gems as “every odd number squared, minus 1 is a multiple of 8!” or “any number is divisible by 3 if the sum of its digits is divisible by 3!” It may just be the engineer in me, but I much preferred the interspersing to the rants.
You may enjoy this book if you can accept that it is not great literature, but a story with an intriguing premise, and one that is rife with wonderful engineering references (I said limited appeal). What other novel speaks lovingly of pi, the Sons of Martha, tetrahedrons, and formulae from Archimedean to Pythagorean?
Erich Segal, the professor, as legend has it, wrote “Love Story” in one day and made a fortune. Michel Bruneau, on the other hand, has laboured long and hard on this novel, but without hockey and young love, I doubt we will see a similarly successful outcome.
Bruce Bodden, P.Eng. of Toronto, is an Editorial Advisor to Canadian Consulting Engineer magazine.