The Placebo Effect


Author: David Rotenberg

Published: 2012

About The Placebo Effect: Decker Roberts knows if people are telling the truth and this talent is drawing unwanted attention. Book one of The Junction Chronicles.

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Review of The Placebo Effect

Decker Roberts lives in Toronto's Junction neighbourhood. He's an acting teacher with a neurological condition called synesthesia. As a synesthete, Decker can literally see if people are telling the truth. Unfortunately, this talent is drawing some unwanted attention from a pharmaceutical company and the US government.

I liked Decker and his complicated life and unusual relationships. I knew very little about synesthesia so all of that was particularly interesting. I also liked how Decker used acting techniques and tricks to give him an advantage when needed. I found the story confusing at times, especially at the beginning, but the tension built nicely and held my attention. I look forward to finding out what happens to Decker in future books and to learning more about him and his friends.

Reviewed by Lynn Bornath on 16 January 2012.

Q&A with David Rotenberg

Decker Roberts has a neurological condition known as synesthesia. How did you become interested in this condition?
I've always written about people with special abilities, the five Zhong Fong novels are about a man with exceptional talent in a world where special talents are not honored. When I directed the first Canadian play in the People's Republic of China the first thing the Artistic Director of that theatre said to me was, "You must remember that you can always be replaced"—a fine hello, how was your flight!
Synesthesia simply gives an access to the 'other.' There is a lot of material on synesthesia; some of the most interesting is actually the documentary on Mr. Tammet and his extraordinary abilities. There is also a gentleman called the human camera, you can find YouTube stuff on both, and BBC documentaries. As well Mr. Tammet has an interesting book.
Rainman was based loosely on the man who Mr. Tammet thought of as his spiritual father—he passed away a few years back.
Would you want Decker's ability to identify the truth?
Yes and no. In my work with starting actors I use some of what Decker is able to do. I'm extremely good at telling a person's age, background, where they were educated, how many siblings they have etc. I can also detect prevarication in a second. But as for knowing profoundly when something is true or not—nah, don't have that—and don't think I'd want that. Having run some pretty big institutions, a theatre and a theatre department, I think it's important to slide on the little lies to allow things to move forward—but, you must never slide on the big lies.
That business about semblant order is something that I'm particularly good at.
The Placebo Effect is the first book in a series set in the Junction area of Toronto. What makes the Junction special to you?
Have you lived out there? If you have it's pretty clear that it's a different world than the GTA. For years we had the stockyards just around the corner, hot dog Tuesday was unbelievable!!! Then there all those churches—so many churches in such a small area....why?
Have you read anything recently by a Canadian author that you would like to recommend?
Mr. Ondaatje's latest.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada for the copy of The Placebo Effect.

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Added 16 January 2012.
Updated 23 March 2014.