The entire novel follows in much the same vein, with improbable things happening and Bernal trying to figure out what the hell is going on. I, too, was wondering what the hell was going on for quite a while. I got to page 85, realized I was totally lost, and went back to the beginning and started over. However, once I figured out who was who and got further in, I found that I enjoyed it quite a lot.
The Brain Thief is about Hesketh, a prototype planetary rover that has been partially funded by Muriel. Hesketh is not just a remote-controlled unit, it is an artificial intelligence. And now it is missing, apparently roaming around the countryside. And its designer, Madeline Ungaro, is also missing, as is Muriel. Bernal follows Muriel's footsteps as best he can, to try to figure out what she was doing before she disappeared. It takes him to a life coach who used to work for a cryonics firm, and to a diner with a giant fiberglass cowgirl on the roof. The plot is very indirect, and it takes a long time and a lot of wandering around to pull the pieces together and stop Hesketh's evil plan.
I really enjoyed The Brain Thief. The plot is meandering and indirect, and as I said I was completely lost at first, but once you give up trying to understand and just let it lead where it will, it's a lot of fun. The writing is a delight. There are so many funny observations and descriptions scattered throughout, and I often found myself grinning. There are many good ones, but here is one I found when I opened the book at random. It is a discussion between Bernal and the life coach:
Spillvagen examined Bernal sympathetically. "We live our lives. We do what we do. Everything moves smoothly. Then...we don't even know how, but we lose ourselves. It's easy to do. And we don't feel fully alive, somehow. Those we know seem like poorly acted characters in a second-rate movie. Even the items around us seem like props rather than things we own. Does that sound familiar to you?"
A little more than was comfortable. "I guess."
"Sometimes the people around you seem two-dimensional, poorly realized. That's when you recognize that those wooden characters some people complain about in movies and books are totally realistic. Most people we know, in fact, are flat: an interest or two, a couple of catch phrases, and a defining desk decoration."