More new stuff.

This review copy came to me from Post Mortem Press via LibraryThing.

Review: Transorbital, Nathan Singer, 2015.Transorbital

I don’t actually know if Walter Freeman II said, as Inigo Montoya did in The Princess Bride,“I’m going to do him left-handed.”, but that evangelist for the transorbital lobotomy did “get bored doing things right-handed so he would switch off in mid-operation and start doing things left-handed.”

The neurologist Walter Freeman in Singer’s novel never says it, but this lightly fictionalized version, like the real Dr. Freeman, travelled the country in a Lobotimobile sometimes doing hundreds of lobotomies a week in the 1950s. Freeman’s innovation was fast and efficient – at least in destroying the targeted brain tissues if not in achieving the desired effects. “Freeman would peel back each eyelid, insert his ice pick and with a hammer tap through the brain, wiggle it about, sever the frontal lobes, withdraw it.

Eventually Freeman could do the old “pop and scramble” with an orbitoclast in each hand to double his processing time. No anesthesia. No antiseptic.

It’s pretty heady stuff for the “lad”, the narrator of Singer’s novel and Dr. Freeman’s assistant, and he gives himself no other name. He’s 20 years old but already has been working in the soul destroying mental hospitals of the time. Alcohol isn’t taking the edge off as much as needed.

But, at least for awhile, Freeman is his hero. Saving lives, taming monsters, restoring hope and peace to the families of the afflicted.

But, after watching Freeman lobotomize a 12 year-old, he’s had enough. The two part ways. Thirteen years later, in 1968, Freeman has fallen into disrepute. The lad, again working as an orderly in a mental hospital, meets Dr. Williams, a fan of Freeman.

Williams has a disturbing theory. Doctors associated with Freeman are being murdered. Williams and the kid visit Freeman’s old cases and hear of a Dr. Hollow, perhaps real, perhaps a hallucination, who may have something to do with the deaths — if the are, in fact, murders.

Singer tells his story efficiently, voices the characters distinctly, especially the interchanges between Freeman and the kid who has his own problems like an addiction to Freeman’s chemical competitor Thorazine.

However, for me, the story started to wobble at the climax with 1960s-type society-is-crazy-and-needs-to-be-destroyed, damn-categories-and-boundaries-and-nuance nihilism. Singer recovered my sympathies with the end though I suspect I just chose to ignore the intended irony.

Still, it’s a gripping read, a non-supernatural horror story that latches itself on to the history of the real Dr. Freeman.

Excerpts with Spoilers

Freeman is not a conman. He’s a true believer in what he does:

They were all sick. And now they’re all better. Now the world they live in is that soft, rounded place you yourself will not relinquish. Only difference is…their new soft world is permanent. Yours is always a needle away. Yes? You know the pain and the madness, lad, it cannot be talked away, can it. Freud can take a hike, am I right? Right off the long pier. And it can’t be drunk away. Not with liquor. If anything, that makes it worse. Doesn’t it, lad. No, it needs to be cut out. Slashed and scrambled. The world needs a lobotomy, lad. You know that even better than I. I’ve come to bring peace to the world. Inner peace. Peace of mind. And I hope that you’ll continue to assist me. We are doing well, and we are doing good. For good.

 And that nihilism I spoke is here in the lad’s thoughts when he meets Dr. Hollow and his band of Transorbitals — not so coincidentally about the time Martin Luther King, Jr is shot:
Life is a mistake, after all. A stupid, random, pointless mistake. A bad cosmic joke.
Anything that rips it to pieces could very well be a damn good thing. There was something to be said for complete devastation after all.
And besides, it wasn’t the people locked up in the wards who were truly insane. It wasn’t them. It was the people locking them up.
It was everyone else.
It wasn’t the schizophrenics dropping bombs on impoverished rice farmers halfway across the world.
It wasn’t the delusional screwballs and shit-throwing nut jobs siccing attack dogs on little Negro kids down South.
Elected officials did that. Perfectly “sane,” perfectly “rational.” Experts. Leaders. “Very serious people.”
Hell, if anyone deserved to be in a padded cell, it was General Westmoreland–

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