Friday, July 9, 2010

Memoirs From The Asylum diagnoses 5 healthy stars.

The reviewer – yours truly – would like to start off with a few bits of trivia that have absolutely nothing – and at the same time everything – to do with the book under discussion.
  1. Varanus exanthematicus
By now – you, the reader – are thinking to yourself:  this guy is nuts, meshuga, cuckoo, balmy and/or one brick short of a load.  The reviewer – yours truly – ardently hopes this is  
not the case.  He maintains he is not insane.  Rather, he is trying to make a point.  And the point is this:  the distinction between sanity and insanity is quite small.
This distinction is the subject of Kenneth Weene’s tragicomic novel Memoirs From The Asylum, which is a little like reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as written by Joseph Heller, who was the author of Catch-22.  Or, if that poor analogy doesn’t work for you, try this one:  the Three Stooges meet Jack Nicholson in The Shining.
To put it simply, Weene has written a shockingly funny and funnily shocking novel about life in an asylum.  It’s shocking because it exposes the abuse and mistreatment the patients suffer at the hands of the hospital’s staff.  And it’s funny because – in the end – it’s hard to tell who’s crazier, the doctors and nurses or the patients.
The narrator of the story, who is a patient, is in the asylum due to fear, fear of everything.  Many other of the patients are schizophrenics, which means they have lost touch with reality.  They suffer hallucinations, delusions and disordered thinking processes.  All of which leads to ‘abnormal behavior.’  One such patient is Marilyn.  In one reality, which is supposedly the real reality, Marilyn lives on a bed in the hospital.  She is catatonic and unresponsive.  In another reality, Marilyn lives in a crack in the wall next to her bed.  She lives there with her family – “the crack that is all truth.” 
Marilyn’s doctor is Dr. Buford Abrose, who is a first-year resident in psychiatry.  In reality, Dr. Abrose works in the asylum, treating patients.  In another reality, Dr. Abrose lives inside his head with his wife, who is a status-seeking gold-digger, who doesn’t like the fact that her husband works in a mental hospital, when he could be working elsewhere, making big bucks. 
The asylum is run by Orrin Parties, who is obsessed by paperwork.  He lacks humanity.  His ‘human touch’ has been misplaced.  And most of his staff is composed of sado-masochists, who hate their jobs, themselves, and their patients. 
The author of the book, Kenneth Weene, has not lost his ‘human touch,’ for he writes well and from the heart.  For example, when describing Mitch, who is one of the patients:  “Alzheimer’s has Mitch.  Every now and then it gets him restless, and he blows like an old geyser that’s running out of steam.  The rest of the time he wanders around talking to himself.  They say he was once a college professor.  So, it isn’t really that different; he’s just talking to himself in a new place.  Guess what?  Nobody cares.”
Memoirs From The Asylum is resplendent with such literary gems.  Weene has a real knack for putting together world-class sentences.  Humor and pathos drip from every page, along with compassion and kindness and insight.  And his narrative abilities pack a wallop that thumps your chest hard.    
Weene cares.  Which is what makes the novel so good.  Indeed, it ranks with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Girl, Interrupted for sheer cathartic storytelling.  In other words, it’s one of those novels you tell your friends about.
On the Read-O-Meter, which ranges from 1 star (sickly) to 5 stars (robust), Memoirs From The Asylum diagnoses 5 healthy stars.
Don’t miss this one!   
Memoirs From The Asylum (All Things That Matter Press/2010) By Kenneth Weene
Randall Radic is a former Old Catholic priest.  He is a graduate of the University of Arizona.  He holds a Master of Theology,  from Trinity Seminary, a Doctorate of Theology from Trinity Seminary,Th.D., and a Doctorate of Sacred Theology, S.T.D. from Agape Seminary.
After a midlife crisis, he spent time behind bars. Today, Radic has emerged a changed man.  He is the author of Gone To Hell: True Crimes of America’s Clergy (ECW Press/ Oct 2009), and A Priest in Hell: Gangs, Murderers and Snitching in a California Jail. Radic is currently working on some unusual book projects, including one titled Raising The Dead.  Visit Randall Radic Writer's Page.

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