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9780140271669

Riven Rock

T.C. Boyle; T. Coraghessan Boyle Author

9780140271669: Riven Rock

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 twentieth 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.

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Review:

In 1905, Stanley McCormick, heir to East Coast millions, is most definitely mad. Heredity and an early, horrifying glimpse of his naked sister have rendered him schizophrenic, incapable of being around women--right down to his wife, Katherine, "a newlywed who might as well have been a widow." Not even the dawn of modern psychiatry can save him. Instead, he's barred and carefully cosseted in Riven Rock, the California estate he helped design for his sister, the first of the McCormicks to crack. Will the 31-year-old patient be cured? His wife, the first female graduate of MIT, believes that he will. So, too, does his loyal head nurse, Eddie O'Kane, a preternaturally articulate, handsome Boston Irishman. Indeed, Eddie thinks himself blessed with good luck. Going to Montecito to care for Mr. McCormick will, he is convinced, enable him to take center stage in the drama of his own life.

Over the next 20 years, Stanley will go from catatonia to a semblance of normality (so long as there's no woman in sight and no sharp cutlery on the table). Eddie, however, will never play the leading role he'd envisioned, instead taking refuge in alcohol and recollections of the one woman he thinks he has let get away, the plainspoken, explosive Giovannella Dimucci. When Eddie first describes his patient's violent response to women, "he wondered if he'd gone too far, if he'd shocked her, but the mask dissolved and she leaned in close, her hand on his elbow. 'Sounds like the average man to me.'" As for Katherine McCormick, she will still visit every Christmas, hoping to at least see her husband if she can't see him get better.

Based on a true story, Riven Rock is unclassifiable, a discomforting and often hilarious mix of tragedy and comedy. (Only Orson Welles could do the book justice on film.) T. C. Boyle writes in a controlled frenzy of rich description and dialogue, pulling us up sharply each time we begin to wonder if his patient isn't a helpless victim. Eddie recalls one nurse before Stanley "got to her": "She was a shadow in a back corner of his mind, a cat you pick up to stroke and then put down again when it stops purring.... Now she was back in Rhode Island, with her mother, but the look of her that day, the way her eyes had melted away to nothing and the color had gone out of her so you could see every lash and hair on her head like brushstrokes in oil, came to him in infinite sadness."

Boyle has great empathy, but there is no avoiding his novel's comic energy. Stanley's first psychiatrist-jailer, Dr. Hamilton, is obsessed with primate sexuality and will go to Riven Rock only if Katherine funds a large living laboratory. He spends all of his time watching the imprisoned creatures copulate, a pathetic counterpoint to his patient's plight. The sight of the disheveled doctor following one animal encounter amuses even the suspicious Katherine. "To his credit, the doctor laughed too. And O'Kane, the bruiser, who'd gone absolutely pale at the tiny hominoids that couldn't have weighed a twentieth of what he did, joined in, albeit belatedly and with a laugh that trailed off into a whinny." Alas, all goes awry when Hamilton takes the joke too far and declares his chimps "the very devils--they're even worse than my patients." Riven Rock is a maximum-velocity study of love, primal energy, and what is sacrosanct in society: control. It is also about loyalty, absurdity, domesticity, and depravity, all of which, Boyle knows, coexist within the best of souls.

About 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.

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