Dr. Harrison, head of a psychiatric hospital, is in trouble. Trapped in a lifeless marriage, pining for a lost love, and questioning the validity of his profession, he is challenged by a particularly problematic patient. Attempting to deal with him, Harrison soon finds himself sinking into a curious nether world between sanity and insanity. The crisis comes when the doctor finds that the patient is engaging in an affair with one of the nurses, a woman the doctor himself lusts after. What ensues is a web of mystery, deceit, illicit relationships, drug use, and ultimately madness that reaches deeply into the doctor as well as the patient.
Since the doctor’s specialty is treating soldiers with psychiatric disorders arising from their experience of World War II, which ended just two years before, the author raises valid questions about what such service does to the participants, from the average American GI to Germans involved in the Holocaust. Questioning the effectiveness of treatment, she goes on to examine how the caregivers are affected as well. Displaying a thorough knowledge of what a psychiatric hospital is like, Ms. Nayman skillfully weaves a tale that leaves one questioning what is real and what is madness. But this is the novel’s undoing as well. Dealing with a largely unsympathetic protagonist with no clear concept of reality, the reader is cast similarly adrift. Persevering to the end, the reader will likely feel rather let down. In an attempt to make sense of this, one might be tempted to make more of the book than is actually there, to seek some intellectual truth, to give the emperor clothes so to speak. Sadly, though, I find this novel rather naked.