Riven Rock

Riven Rock

3.1 11
by T. C. Boyle

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Based on a true story of love, madness and sexuality this is a tragic book with enormous depth and scopeSee more details below


Based on a true story of love, madness and sexuality this is a tragic book with enormous depth and scope

Editorial Reviews

Peter Kurth
When was the last time you read a work of historical fiction that left you completely satisfied? Not a novel "set in the past," but the fictionalized account of actual persons who lived, breathed and -- in this case -- went mad in the hills above Santa Barbara, Calif.? In Riven Rock, his seventh novel, T. Coraghessan Boyle has taken the depressing story of Stanley R. McCormick, one of the sons and heirs of Cyrus McCormick, the inventor of the reaper, and turned it into a thrilling, romantic, careening tale of love, redemption and the rewards of the faithful heart. It's no small feat when you consider that Stanley McCormick was a paranoid schizophrenic and sexual maniac who spent the better part of his adult life locked away from women in a lonely, California-Moorish castle -- the Riven Rock of the book's title -- surrounded by a team of male doctors and attendants who were his only companions for 20-odd years.

The case, while not famous, was certainly known in its time, particularly after 1929, when Stanley McCormick's wife, Boston socialite and suffragist Katherine Dexter McCormick, sued to gain full control of her husband's person and estate. She fought not only the Chicago McCormick dynasty but a slew of psychiatrists, lawyers, male nurses and hangers-on whose livelihoods all depended on McCormick's remaining insane and in need of their care. The never-consummated, purely emotional marriage of Stanley and Katherine is the meat and heart of Riven Rock, balanced and mirrored by the adventures of Eddie O'Kane, Stanley McCormick's hard-drinking, philandering, guilt-ridden Irish nurse (presumably modeled on McCormick's real-life attendant, Kenneth McKillip, and one of the only characters in the novel whose name has been changed). O'Kane is earth and flesh to Stanley and Katherine's romantic idealism. This is a novel about love and sex and the way they work, or don't, together.

"All her life Katherine Dexter had been disappointed in men," Boyle writes about his brainy heroine (one of the first women graduates of MIT, who ultimately left her husband's entire fortune to her alma mater). "She didn't like to generalize, but if she did she would find the average man to be false, petty, childish and smug, an overgrown playground bully distended by nature and lack of exercise until he fitted his misshapen suits and the ridiculous bathing costume he donned to show off his ape-like limbs at the beach." Boyle is one of our finest descriptive writers, an Irishman through and through. It's hard to know what impresses most, his stunningly unexpected way with a phrase -- "He'd led the chase through three cars, bobbing and weaving in his maniacal slope-shouldered gait, apparently looking to run right on up through the length of the train, over the tender and across the nose of the locomotive to perch on the cowcatcher and catch insects in his teeth all the way to California" -- or his bold romanticism and lyric tone: "It was the key, the first principle, the beginning. And so much was engendered there, the broken wall, the burning roof and tower, because the key fit and the key turned, and from that moment on he wooed her with the sweetest phrases from the driest texts, with reform, the uplifting of the poor, the redistribution of wealth and the seizing of the means of production for the good and glory of the common man." This is a splendid book, a noble achievement, a work of art. -- Salon

Michiko Kakutani
[Boyle] has apparently decided to try, as he once put it, ''to do emotions,'' rather than embrace his more antic comic talents....The results are far more mixed: a long, meandering and fluently written book that has some truly affecting moments but that ultimately reduces two of its three main characters to caricatures. -- The New York Times
New Yorker
A bracing examination of misogynymental illnessand the shadowy side of love.
Seattle Times
Wise and touching...Boyle's best novel to date.
Library Journal
When Stanley McCormick, the brilliant but highly strung son of the inventor of the Reaper, marries Boston socialite and MIT graduate Katherine Dexter, the papers call it the wedding of the century. But the marriage is never consummated, and after a disastrous honeymoon, a catatonic Stanley is moved to Riven Rock, a prisonlike mission in Santa Barbara. Diagnosed as a schizophrenic sex maniac, Stanley is to be kept entirely separate from women, including Katherine, who may speak to him only by telephone. Katherine goes on to become a major figure in the burgeoning suffrage movement and even smuggles a steamer trunk full of contraceptives into the country in support of Margaret Sanger, but she never divorces her husband or gives up hoping for a cure. Riven Rock resembles The Road to Wellville in its send-up of medical quackery in the early years of the century, but here the fact-based love story takes precedence over satire. This affecting and surprisingly mature novel is Boyle's best book since Water Music -- Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law School Library, Los Angeles
Paul Kafka
Boyle combines his gift for historical re-creation with his dazzling powers as a storyteller....Riven Rock is as romantic as it is informative, as colorful as it is convincing. -- The Boston Globe
The New Yorker
A bracing examination of misogyny, mental illness, and the shadowy side of love.
The Washington Post
One of the most gifted writers of his generation.
Seattle Times
Wise and touching...Boyle's best novel to date.
Bengt Ulin
A compelling combination of historical truth and literary invention. -- Chicago Tribune

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Bloomsbury USA
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