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Riven Rock

Riven Rock

3.1 11
by T. C. Boyle, Michael Russotto (Read by)

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T. C. Boyle's seventh novel transforms two characters straight out of history into rich mythic figures whose tortured love story is as heartbreaking as it is hilarious. It is the dawn of the 20th century when the beautiful, budding feminist Katherine Dexter falls in love with Stanley McCormick, son of a millionaire inventor. The two wed, but before the marriage is


T. C. Boyle's seventh novel transforms two characters straight out of history into rich mythic figures whose tortured love story is as heartbreaking as it is hilarious. It is the dawn of the 20th century when the beautiful, budding feminist Katherine Dexter falls in love with Stanley McCormick, son of a millionaire inventor. The two wed, but before the marriage is consummated, Stanley experiences a nervous breakdown and is diagnosed as a schizophrenic sex maniac. Locked up for the rest of his life at Riven Rock, the family's California mansion, Stanley is treated by a series of confident doctors determined to cure him. But his true salvation lies with Katherine who, throughout her career as a scientist and suffragette, continues a patient vigil from beyond the walls of Riven Rock, never losing hope that one day Stanley will be healed. Blending social history with some of the most deliciously dark humor ever written, Boyle employs his hallmark virtuoso prose to tell the story of America's age of innocence--and of a love affair that is as extraordinary as it is unforgettable.

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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HOW HIS HAND How his hand came into contact with her face--her sweet plump irritating little burr of a wifely face that found a place beside his each night on the connubial pillow--was as much a mystery to O'Kane as the scalloped shell of the sky and the rain that fell as one angry inveterate thing over all this weary part of the earth. It wasn't late--not ten o'clock yet. And he wasn't angry. Not yet, anyway. On the contrary, he'd been celebrating--polluting himself, as she would say, living it up, for he's a jolly good fellow and three cheers for this one and that one and rah, rah, rah--celebrating with Nick and Pat and Mart, and with Dr. Hamilton, yes, with him too. Celebrating the rest of his life that had just been turned on like an electric switch, flooding him with light, light that poured from his nostrils and ears and his mouth and no doubt his rectum too, though he hadn't yet had occasion to look down there; but he would, he would eventually. And then he had come home, and there she was, stalking the sitting room like a bristling tireless little rat-gnawing thing, all primed and ready to pounce.

He hadn't meant to hit her--and he'd hit her only once, or maybe twice, before--and the thing was, he wasn't even angry, just ... irritated. And tired. Drained to the core. The noise she made, and the baby squalling in the back room, and the way she kept thrusting her face at him as if it was a volleyball, tanned, stitched and puffed up to regulation pressure, and she wouldn't let him have this, not even this, after all the gut-wrenching and indecision it had cost him over the past two months, and when the inflated ball of her face had come at him for maybe the fiftieth time he slammed it right up and over the net, just as if he was still in school and diving for a low one on the hard foot-compacted turf of the volleyball court. That opened her up, all right, and there was no peace for him after that, she was like an artesian well, a real gusher, tears and blood and rage exploding at him, and all he could think of, dodging away from that streaming face till he was so drained and exhausted he toppled into a blackness deeper than the last dying wink of consciousness, was Mrs. McCormick--Katherine--and what a lady she was, and Rosaleen stuck to him like flypaper and howling till the windows went to pieces and the roof collapsed and the whole drugged and dreaming town fell away into some deep fissure of the earth.

Earlier that day, in the morning, it had been different. He'd awakened at first light and saw her there beside him, the soft petals of her eyelids and her lashes and lips and the fragile composition of her face, and he thought about kissing her, leaning over and brushing his lips against the down of her cheek, but he didn't. He didn't want to wake her--or his son either. It was too peaceful, the submarine light, the stealthy tick of the clock, the rudiments of birdnoise, and he didn't want to have to talk to her about the McCormicks and the meeting and what he feared and what he hoped--he hardly knew himself. He stripped off his flannels at the side of the bed and slipped naked into the sitting room with his good Donegal tweed over one arm and a fresh suit of underwear over the other, and dressed like a thief of clothes. Then he was out the door and into another life.

The year was 1908, and he'd just turned 25. He was a hair under six feet, with the pugilist's build he'd inherited from his father (who'd put the prototype to good use in a series of mostly victorious bare-knuckle fights in the nineties), and his mother's wistful sea-green eyes with the two hazel clock hands implanted in the right one, inflexibly pointing, for this lifetime at least, to three o'clock. His mother had always told him that chronometric eye would bring him luck--great luck and fortune--and when he questioned her, skeptical even at 10 and 11, she just pointed to the proof and insisted that the hour was preordained. But what about you? he would say, lifting his eyes to the colorless walls of the four rooms they shared with his grandmother, his uncle Billy, his four sisters and three cousins, where's your three o'clock luck? And she would frame his face with her hands, the softest touch in the world, and whisper, "It's right here, right here, between my hands."

The morning flew. He'd started off at the White Street house, where they'd installed Mr. McCormick to get him away from the disturbing influence of the other patients, and then he'd gone on to McLean and now he was late, cutting across the lawn out front of the administrative building on a day that was like a wet dishrag, though it was the last week of April and he would have sacrificed to the gods to see a ray of sun--he was late and hurrying and he didn't give a damn for the fact that he'd left his hat and overcoat back in the nurses' common room and the cuffs of his good Donegal tweed trousers were soaking up the damp like a pair of fat swollen sponges tied to his ankles. He should have, because when the tailor came over from Ballyshannon and settled into the rooming house down the street from them and his mother said he should take advantage of the opportunity and have one nice suit made because if he ever hoped to work with his brains instead of his back he'd have to look like one of the quality, he'd laid out $18 for it. Eighteen dollars in good hard Yankee coin he'd earned at the Boston Lunatic Asylum scraping blood, vomit and worse off the walls. And here it was, wet through in the shoulders and crawling up his shins and sure as the devil it was going to shrink, but what did he care? It was two minutes to eleven, the hair was hanging wet in his eyes and Dr. Hamilton was waiting for him. If things worked out, he could buy six suits.

It wasn't like him to be late--it was unprofessional, and Dr. Hamilton was a stickler for the "three p's," as he called them: punctuality, propriety and professionalism--and O'Kane, already wrought up, felt like a piece of fat in the fryer as he charged across the wet lawn. He was sweating under the arms and the hair was dangling like rope in his face. It wasn't like him, but he was behind his time because he'd gotten distracted over at White Street, and then in the back ward, and all because of the apes. Apes and monkeys, that is. They were all he could think about. And it was funny too because this was the kind of day that got the violents stirred up--it wasn't just the full moon, it was any change in the weather, even from perpetual gloom to a driving downpour--and as he hurried across the lawn he could hear Katzakis the Mad Greek and the one they called the Apron Man hooting at one another from the maximum ward, hooting just like apes. Violents he knew inside and out--he ought to after seven years in the profession--but his experience with hominoids, as Dr. Hamilton called them, was limited. And why wouldn't it be? South Boston, Danvers and Waverley weren't exactly tropical jungles.

In fact, aside from the usual boyhood encounters with the organ-grinder's monkey, the sideshow at the circus, the zoo and that sort of thing, he'd only come within spitting distance of an ape once, and that was in a barroom. He'd gone into Donnelly's one afternoon for a pint and a chat, and when he looked up from his beer there was a man sitting beside him at the counter with a one-eyed chimpanzee on a leash. For a shot of rye whiskey and a beer chaser the man got the chimp to pull out his organ and piss in a beer glass and then drink it down as if it was the finest 86-proof Irish--and smack his lips to boot. When the man had chased his third shot he gave a look up and down the bar and said he would challenge anybody in the place to arm-wrestle the thing for half a dollar--this scrawny half-bald one-eyed little monkey that stank like all the souls in hell boiled in their own juice and then left out in the sun for a week after that--and there was a lot of elbowing and obscene commentary from the patrons as they worked themselves up to it. Finally, Frank Leary, a big squareheaded loudmouthed bull of a man who worked for the railroad, took him up on it, and the thing pinned Leary's wrist to the bar in half a second and wouldn't let go of his hand till there were tears in his eyes.

The experience didn't exactly qualify O'Kane as a hominoid expert, as he would have been the first to admit, and he'd spent a painful hour in the library after work yesterday squinting into an encyclopedia in the vain hope of learning something--anything--that might impress Mrs. McCormick. Or, if not impress her, at least keep the level of humiliation down to a minimum if she suddenly took it into her head to grill him on the subject. The library was an alien place to O'Kane, damper than a Chinese laundry and three times as cold, the lighting hominoidally primitive and the illumination offered by the encyclopedia on the subject of apes nearly as dim. "Apes," he read, "are intelligent animals and are more closely related to man than any other living primates. They are popular zoo and circus animals. They also have figured widely in the legends and folktales of many countries." After a while he pushed himself up, replaced the book on the shelf and ambled over to Donnelly's to fix this vast reservoir of knowledge in his brain with the aid of a mnemonic whiskey or two.

And now he was late and his one good suit was crawling up his shins and he was wondering how he was going to break the staggering news to Mrs. McCormick, the Ice Queen herself, that apes were popular zoo and circus animals. But as he reached the verge of the lawn and vaulted the retaining wall there, crossed the flagstone walkway and started up the steps of the ad building, the multifarious marvel of his congested brain surprised him--the apes flew right out of his head and he was thinking about California. Or he wasn't thinking about it, not exactly--he had a vision, a sudden vivid recollection of a place there, date palms shimmering beneath the golden liquefaction of the sun and orange trees with fruit like swollen buttocks and a little bungalow or whatever they called it snug in the corner--and this was odd, more than odd, since he'd never in his life been west of Springfield. It took him a minute to realize it must have been one of those orange crate labels he was calling up, the ones that make you want to throw down the snow shovel right that minute and catch the next train west. But there it was, real or illusionary--California--hanging in his head in all its exotic glory where the apes had been a moment before.

And then finally, as he stepped through the big beveled-glass doors and into the dim paste-wax-and-coal-dust-smelling hall, he thought of his own Rosaleen, his sorrow and his joy, his sweet, randy, pugnacious, clover-lipped bride of three months and mother of his green-eyed boy, Edward Jr. What was she going to think when he told her they were moving to California for the sake of Mr. Stanley McCormick, late of the McCormick Reaper Works and the International Harvester Company, Mr. McCormick and a troop of apes? And what was her mother going to think and her cauliflower-eared brothers and her quibbling old stump of a father who'd wanted to skin him alive for getting her in trouble in the first place? As if it was all his fault, as if she hadn't seen her chance and taken it--and hadn't he done the right thing by her, and wasn't she at that very moment sitting snug in the walkup on Chestnut Street with her baby and her new curtains and everything else a woman could want?

He passed by Dr. Cowles' office at a stiff-legged trot, swiping at his hair and wrestling with his tie and trying to contort his shoulders to fit the sodden confines of the suit, and it was all he could do to flick a little wave at Miss Ianucci, Dr. Cowles's typewriter. Miss Ianucci was a spaghetti twister from Italy who couldn't seem to find a shirtwaist big enough to accommodate her appurtenances and who never ceased touching her lips and crossing and uncrossing her legs whenever O'Kane got a chance to stop in and chat with her--which was every time he passed by unless he was on his way to a fire. People were always grousing about the immigrants--the I-talians this and the Polacks that, the Guineas and wops and bohunks, and his father was one of the most vocal and vehement, though he'd come over himself in an empty whiskey barrel aboard a transatlantic steamer not thirty years ago--but for his money they could let in all the Miss Ianuccis they wanted. And wouldn't that be a job, standing there at the bottom of the gangplank, and passing judgment on this one or that: Nah, send her back--she's flat as an ironing board. Her? Yeah, we'll take her. Come on over here, miss, and step into the examining room a minute won't you? A man could create an entire race, a whole new breed based on tits alone--or hips or legs or turned-up noses and pinned-back ears. Look what they'd done with dogs....

Anyway, he had to content himself with a wave this time because he knew how much this meeting meant to Dr. Hamilton--and to himself, himself and Rosaleen--and he hustled down the hall while Miss Ianucci stuck a finger in the corner of her mouth and sucked on it and crossed and uncrossed her legs and gave him the richest smile in all the world. Two doors down, three, and it was all he could do to keep from breaking into a run. He glanced up as he hurried past the portrait of John McLean, the decidedly unsmiling and bewigged philanthropist who'd given a hundred thousand dollars back in 1818 to open the doors of this fair institution, and though he was late, though he looked like hell and the smells of fear and hope were commingled in his sweat and his sweat was flowing as if it were the middle of July and he was carrying the entire McCormick family up a hill on his shoulders, apes and all, he couldn't help thinking, for just the fleetingest instant, of what he could do with a hundred thousand dollars--and it wouldn't be to endow any charitable organization, that was for sure, unless it was the Edward James O'Kane Benevolent and Fiduciary Fund. But enough of that. Suddenly he was there, at the far end of the hallway, breathing hard, three minutes past eleven, half-soaked, sweating and wild-eyed, tapping respectfully at the smooth varnished plane of Dr. Hamilton's door.

He could detect the purl of conversation from within, and his heart sank. This was what he'd been fearing since he'd slipped out of the house and into the festering gray maw of the dawn, what he was afraid of as he emptied bedpans and jerked rigid lunatics and simple morons down from the barred windows and up from the beds: she was there already. Which meant he was late. Officially. He cursed himself and tapped again, this time with a little more vigor, and felt even worse when the murmur broke off abruptly, as if he were interrupting something. There was an agonizing silence during which the wild thought that they were conspiring to leave him out of it altogether raced through his head, and then he heard Dr. Hamilton murmur, "That must be him now," and any trace of composure he might have been able to muster evaporated in that instant. "Come in," the doctor called, and O'Kane felt his face flush as he pushed open the door and entered the room.

The first thing he noticed was the fire--a lavish crackling devil-may-care blaze that played off the paneled walls and cast a soft glow on the doctor's collection of wax impressions of the human brain, the first fire O'Kane had ever seen in this particular fireplace, even in the dim frozen mists of January or February. But there it was, a fire to take the dampness out of the air and create a relaxed and cozy atmosphere, as Dr. Hamilton had no doubt calculated. It was a surprise, a real surprise, as was the tray of finger sandwiches, a teapot and the decanter of sherry set out on the low table in front of the settee, and O'Kane's estimation of Hamilton, already high, shot up another notch. "Oh, hello, Edward," the doctor purred, coming up off the edge of his desk to take O'Kane's hand and give it a squeeze. "We were just about to begin."

Anyone watching this performance would have seen nothing but good nature and cordiality in that hand-squeeze, but O'Kane felt the black blood of anxiety and irritation pulsing through the doctor's fleshless fingers and the damp recess of his palm: O'Kane was in the wrong, he was late, he'd violated the dictum of the three p's and put everything in jeopardy. Despite all the doctor's warnings of the previous day, despite skipping breakfast and leaving the house early and wearing his tweeds and collar under the hospital whites to save time and keeping the apes hurtling through the crowded jungle of his mind, limb by limb and minute by minute, he was late. He'd gotten off on the wrong foot. Already.

Awkward, red-faced, too big for his shrinking suit and towering over the room like some club-wielding troglodyte, O'Kane could only duck his head and mumble an apology. He saw that Mrs. McCormick was already there--the younger Mrs. McCormick, the wife, not the mother. She was running the show now, and the older Mrs. McCormick, Mr. McCormick's mother, was back in Chicago, sitting on her golden nest and laying her golden eggs and counting up the dividends. As far as Stanley's--Mr. McCormick's--care was concerned, she'd left the field to the younger woman. For the moment, at least.

Since O'Kane wasn't wearing a hat or overcoat, it was just a matter of giving his tie a quick twist and bending from the waist to greet Mrs. McCormick and the woman who seemed at that instant to have sprung up beside her on the settee. He was momentarily confused. It seemed he was always confused in Mrs. McCormick's presence, whether he was holding the door for her like a lackey as she stepped regally into the front hall at White Street or trying his aphasic best to respond to one of her multitiered questions about her husband's progress--or lack of it. She was a society lady, that's what she was, cold as a walking corpse, all fur, feathers and stone, and O'Kane wasn't part of society. Not by a long shot. He wasn't even part of the society that aspired to be part of society. He was a working man, son of a working man, grandson of a working man, and on and on all the way back to the apes--or Adam and Eve, whichever you believed in. Still, every time he saw her, locked in the cold hard glittering shell of her Back Bay beauty, it made him ache to be something he wasn't, to impress her or make her laugh or lean in close and whisper something filthy in her ear, and it took a tremendous effort of will simply to bend forward and touch his fingertips to her gloved hand and then turn to the older woman beside her, a woman with a face like a squashed bird framed in the riot of feathers that was her hat, a woman he knew as well as his own mother but couldn't ... quite ... seem to--

But then he was seated--in the chair closest to the fire--an inoffensive smile attached to his face, the sweat already starting up again under his arms, and he had a moment to catch his breath and let recollection come roaring back at him. This older lady, the one dressed like a funeral director's wife, was Mrs. McCormick's mother, Mrs. Dexter. Of course she was. Dr. Hamilton was saying something now, but O'Kane wasn't listening. He worked his neck muscles and twitched his shoulders till he caught Mrs. Dexter's attention and broadened his smile to a kind of blissful grimace. "And a good morning to you, Mrs. Dexter," he said, hearing his father's Killarney brogue creeping into his own booming, baleful voice, though he tried to fight it down.

Dr. Hamilton paused in the middle of whatever he'd been saying to give him an odd look. "And to you, Mr. O'Kane," the old lady returned cheerily, and this seemed to reassure the doctor, so he went on.

"As I was saying, Mrs. McCormick, if the terms are acceptable to you--and your mother, of course--I think we have a bargain. I've spoken to Mrs. Hamilton and to the Thompson brothers, and they're all committed to the move--and to Mr. McCormick's care and welfare, of course. Edward, here, can speak for himself."

O'Kane shifted in his seat. He hadn't understood till that moment just how much this whole thing meant to him--it was a new start, a new life, in a part of the country as foreign to him as the dark side of the moon. But that was just it--it wasn't dark in California, and it didn't snow, and there was no slush and drizzle and there were no frozen clods of horse manure in the streets and life there didn't grind you down till you barely knew you were alive. A single acre of oranges could make a man comfortable--oranges that practically grew by themselves, without even the rumor of work, once they were in the ground--and ten acres could make a man rich. There was gold. There was oil. There was the Pacific. There was sun. "Oh, I'm committed, all right,ø he said, trying to avoid the wife's eyes.

How old was she, anyway? She couldn't have been much more than 30, and here he was, a lusty strong big-shouldered 190-pound Irishman from the North End who routinely stared down the craziest of the crazy, and he was afraid to look her in the eye? He made an effort and raised his head to take in the general vicinity of her. "Even if it means forever."

"And your wife--Mrs. O'Kane?" At first he thought the voice had come out of the ceiling, as voices tended to do for so many of the unfortunates on the ward, but then he realized that the old lady was moving her lips. He tried to look alert as the birdy face closed on him. "How does she feel about it?"

"Rose?" The question took him by surprise. He saw his wife in the kitchen of the walkup, stirring a pot of broth and potatoes, ignorant as a shoe, contentious and coarse and loud--but goodhearted, as goodhearted as any girl you'd find, and the mother of his son. "I--I guess I haven't told her yet, but she'll be thrilled, I know she will."

"It'll mean leaving behind everything she knows--her parents, her relations, her former schoolmates, the streets where she grew up," Mrs. Dexter persisted, and what did she want from him anyway? They were both watching him, mother and daughter, and they were two birds--both of them--beaky and watchful, waiting for the faintest stirring in the grass. "And where did you say she was from?"

He hadn't said. He was tempted to say Beacon Hill, to give an address on Commonwealth Avenue, but he didn't. "Charlestown," he mumbled, staring down at his wet and glistening shoes. He could feel the eyes of the younger one boring into him.

"And for you too," the old woman said. "Are you prepared to say good-bye to your own mother and father--and for as long as it takes for Mr. McCormick to be well again?"

There was a silence. The fire snapped, and he felt the heat of it chasing the steam from his cuffs and flanks and the shrinking shoulders of his jacket. "Yes, ma'am," he said, darting a glance at the younger woman. "I think so. I really do."

And then, thankfully, Hamilton took over. "The important thing," he said, or rather, whispered in the narcotic tones he used on his charges, "is Mr. McCormick. The sooner we're able to move the patient and establish him in the proper way in California, the better it will be for all concerned. Especially the patient. What he needs, above all, is a tranquil environment, with all the stresses that led to his blocking removed. Only then can we hope to--" He faltered. Mrs. McCormick had cleared her throat--that was all: cleared her throat--and that stopped him cold.

Dr. Hamilton--Dr. Gilbert Van Tassel Hamilton, future author of Sex in Marriage, as well as "A Study of Sexual Tendencies in Monkeys and Baboons"--was a young man then, just thirty-one, but he cultivated a Vandyke and swept his dun-colored hair straight back from his brow in an attempt to add something to his years. He wore a pair of steel-rimmed pince nez identical to the president's, and he always dressed carefully in ash-colored suits and waistcoats and a tie that was such an unfathomable shade of blue it might as well have been black, as if any show of color would undermine his sense of duty and high purpose. ("Avoid bright clothing," he'd admonished O'Kane on the day he hired him; "it tends to excite the catatonics and alarm the paranoics.") Young as he was, he was a rock of solidity, but for one disconcerting little tic that he himself might not have been aware of: every thirty seconds or so his eyes would flick back behind his upper lids in a spasm so instantaneous it was like watching a slot machine on its final revolution. Needless to say, when he was nervous or wrought up the tic became more pronounced. Now, as he looked expectantly at Mrs. McCormick, his pupils began a quavering preliminary little dance.

O'Kane was looking at her too. He couldn't help but look at her, as long as it didn't involve eye contact. She was fascinating to him, a real specimen, the kind of woman you saw only in glimpses--a silhouette behind the windowscreen of the long thrusting miracle of a Packard motorcar, a brisk commanding figure in a cluster of doormen and porters, the face of a photograph in a book--and how could he help contrasting her with his own Rosaleen? Sitting there perched on the very fractional edge of the settee with her finishing-school posture and her cleft chin stuck up in the air like a weathervane, wearing a dress of some satiny blue material that probably cost more than he would make in six months, she was like an alien, like the shining representative of some new and superior species, but for one thing: her husband was mad, as mad as the Apron Man or Katzakis the Greek or any of them, and all the manners and all the money in the world couldn't change that.

"About the apes ... ," she said, and O'Kane realized it was the first time she'd opened her mouth since he'd entered the room.

Hamilton's voice fell away to nothing, the whisper of a whisper. "Yes?" he breathed, lounging back against the corner of the desk and resting his weight casually on his left ham, the doctor in his office, nothing the matter, nothing at all. "What about them? If there's anything that you--"

"They are necessary, aren't they--in your estimation, Dr. Hamilton? I understand that in order to lure such a promising young psychologist as yourself all the way out to the West Coast and uproot your family and your practice here at McLean, there has to be a quid pro quo"--and here she held up a finger to silence him, because he was up off the desk again and his mouth was already working in the nest of his beard--"and that your hominoid laboratory is a major part of it, in addition to your salary considerations, relocation expenses and the like, but is there really any hope of these apes figuring in Stanley's cure?"

This was Hamilton's cue, and with barely a flick of his eyes, he launched into a speech that would have done a drummer proud. He made no promises--her husband's case was more complex than anyone had originally believed, far more complex--but he'd personally supervised dozens of cases just as severe and he'd seen those patients make huge steps toward recovery, even complete recovery, with the proper care. New advances were being made not only in the treatment of dementia praecox--or schizophrenia, as it was now more commonly called--but across the whole spectrum of human behavior and psychology, and new figures like Freud, Jung and Adler had begun to emerge to build on the work of Charcot, Krafft-Ebing, Havelock Ellis and Magnus Hirschfeld. O'Kane had heard it all before, and he found himself drifting, the heat making him drowsy, the heavy material of his trousers adhering to his flanks like a second skin--and itching, itching like the very devil. Hamilton's voice droned on, hypnotic, soporific, the gloom beyond the windows like the backdrop of a waking dream. He came back to himself when the doctor finally got round to the question of the apes.

"--and while the behavioral sciences are in their infancy," Hamilton was saying, "and ours will be among the first hominoid laboratories in the world, Katherine" (Katherine, he was calling her Katherine now), "I really and truly do expect that my intensive study of the lower primates will lead to any number of breakthroughs in human behavior, particularly with regard to sexual tendencies."

Ah, and now it was out of the bag, O'Kane thought, the crux of the matter, the subject you don't discuss in mixed company, the thing men and women discover together in the dark. He watched the wife's perfectly composed face, with its stingy lips and little turned-up nose and sculpted ears, for a reaction. There was nothing. Not a flicker. She was a scientist herself--the first female baccalaureate in the sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology--and no quirk of the human organism could ruffle her. She was made of ice. Layers of it, mountains--she was a glacier in human form, an Ice Queen, that's what she was.

"Yes, I understand," she said, pursing her lips and shooting a look at O'Kane that wilted him on the spot, as if he were the one who'd brought up the subject, "but apes are one thing and human beings quite another. I really don't see how any discovery you make as to the"--and here she paused, for just a beat--"sexual proclivities of apes and monkeys can be applied to my husband's case. I just fail to see it."

This was a critical juncture, and O'Kane, impelled by the heat of the fire, the closeness of the room and the sudden fear that the whole thing--orange trees, bungalow and all--was about to collapse like a house of cards, suddenly plunged in with a speech of his own. "But we'll take the best care of him, ma'am, I and the Thompson brothers and Dr. Hamilton and Dr. Meyer too. He asks for us specially, you know, and we feel a real ... a real compassion for him that we don't always feel with the other patients ... he's such a gentleman, I mean, and bound to improve. And I admit I don't know the first thing about apes--hominoids, that is--but I'm young and willing and I can learn, I can. You'll see."

There was a silence. Mrs. McCormick--Katherine--looked startled, as if the chair or the hat rack had suddenly begun to speak, but the old lady seemed satisfied--she had a sort of fixed benevolent old lady's smile pasted to her lips--and Dr. Hamilton, his eyes jumping, paused only to stroke his beard for effect before coming in with the heavy artillery. 'That's right, Edward: it will be a learning process for all of us, and for the sciences in general, and beyond the good we'll do for Mr. McCormick, we have an excellent chance of doing somet

Meet the Author

T. C. Boyle is the author of eleven novels, including World's End (winner of the PEN/FaulknerAward), Drop City (a New York Times bestseller and finalist for the National Book Award), and The Inner Circle. His most recent story collections are Tooth and Claw and The Human Fly and Other Stories.

Brief Biography

Santa Barbara California
Date of Birth:
December 2, 1948
Place of Birth:
Peekskill, New York
B.A. in music, State University of New York at Potsdam, 1970; Ph.D. in literature, Iowa University, 1977

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Riven Rock 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Maybe the most important comment I can make about this book is that I couldn't put it down -- not in the sense that it's a simple page-turner, but in the sense that Boyle is a very gifted writer who really knows how to tell a story, and it's a fascinating story at that. My only complaints are that the excess that serves Boyle so well in his comic writing occasionally feels melodramatic or trite in this serious effort (though more often the prose is wonderful), the story gets repetitious at times and could have benefited from a little tightening, and an occasional scene strains credulity or seems contrived. But these are niggling points: Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel and was sorry when it ended. Boyle has accomplished no small feat here. Recommended!
Guest More than 1 year ago
My god, the opening paragraph alone makes this book impossible to put down: 'For 20 years, 20 long dull repetitive years that dripped by with the sleepy incessant murmur of water dripping from a gutter, Stanley McCormick never laid eyes on a woman. Not his mother, not his sisters, not his wife. No nurse or librarian, no girl in pigtails on her way to school, no spinster sweeping her porch or housewife haggling with the grocer, no slut, flapper or suffragette. It wasn't a matter of choice. Stanley loved his mother, his wife, his sisters, he loved other people's mothers, wives, sisters and daughters, but he loved them too much, loved them with an incendiary passion that was like hate. that was indistinguishable from hate, and it was that loving and hating that fomented all his troubles and thrust him headlong into a world without women.' This is a gripping read, and T.C. Boyle is one of the most surprising and stunning writers of our time. This book will stay with you long after you put it down. Don't be surprised if you have to tell everyone you know to read it.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was a strange one. I couldn't help but think of Katherine Dunn as I was making my way through it. Although Boyle's theatrical restraint is much more developed than Ms. Dunn's. It's story of Stanley McCormick slowly going bananas isn't really all there is to it. He contrasts the themes of loyalty and infidelity, both taken to the extreme. I waited for a resolution or for a didactic ending, but it never came. I enjoyed this book.
daredog More than 1 year ago
OK kind of boring
Guest More than 1 year ago
This author was recommended and the choices of material this author writes about spark my interest, especially since I grew up in Santa Barbara however, I had a very difficult time getting into the book. While the subject matter is very interesting, I found the reading cumbersome and frankly boring. I tried several times to read this book, but ended up frustrated from the author's endless descriptions of every single detail. I wanted him to get to the point! I ended up reading about the characters in other books & on-line material and felt much more satisfied.