Monday, August 4, 2008

The Impression of Sanity

In Patrick McGrath's latest novel, Trauma, readers follow the thoughts of a Freudian psychologist, Charlie Weir, who specializes in treating Vietnam War Veterans when they return home from combat. Our doctor's view of these soldiers allows us to glimpse the impact that combat has upon its survivors, the deleterious effects of which statisticians could never quantify because of its extent into a society, it's too complex to isolate into numbers, and so we have fiction to be real in a way that numbers can not be.

Charlie's story becomes increasingly personal; after a series of stressful and isolating events, he begins to remember a mysterious memory which he had repressed as a child, a memory that rankles him as it pokes out from his subconscious.

McGrath writes about people in a way that feels as tangible as the everyday, and this believability along with the psychological explanations for behavior swept me away and sunk me deep into this story. When Charlie talks to us about being with his father, he remembers "He wasn't a successful man but he gave the impression of being one, and when he took us out to lunch I marveled at the peremptory tone with which he addressed the waters, brisk unsmiling men in starched white aprons who, in that adult room of wood paneling and cigar smoke, thoroughly intimidated the lanky, nervous adolescent I then was." This resonated with me, and much of the characters are flushed out and feel real.

McGrath is well-known for writing psychological suspense novels, and two of his novels have been adopted into films, Asylum (directed by David Mackenzie) and Spider (directed by David Cronenberg).

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