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Posts Tagged ‘mental illness’

The Arrangement is The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit without any clothes on.

Elia Kazan’s story gets off to a fast and sordid start.


The Arrangement: A Novel by Elia Kazan
Stein and Day, 1967, 544 p. My grade: C+.

car hit by tractor-trailer truck

Who does this deliberately?

“Indispensible Eddie” Anderson, an advertising executive (also known as Evans Arness, muckraking magazine writer, and as Evangelos Arness, son of a bankrupt Greek rug merchant) is having an affair from a girl from his office, Gwen Hunt.

Helped by a psychiatrist, wife Florence has learned to not notice Eddie’s profligacy.

Eddie leaves nude photographs of himself and Gwen where they’ll be found and brought to Florence’s attention.

Florence convinces Eddie to try to repair their marriage.

Some months into the reconciliation, Eddie drives his car into the side of a trailer truck.

While Eddie’s body heals, his mind gets increasingly unbalanced.

He ends up in a mental institution.

When he’s released, Eddie moves in with Gwen. They both work part time at a rural Connecticut liquor store. Eddie starts writing to clear his mind, moves on to writing short stories.

Eddie and Gwen are repellent characters. They don’t grow up; they just grow tired.

In the end, Eddie wonders if all the drama was necessary.

I wonder too.

Is writing fiction more noble than telling stories about consumer products?

©2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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In Greatheart, Ethel M. Dell has created characters readers will care about and eagerly follow, hoping for their happiness.

But, as often happens to Dell, when it’s time to end the story, she doesn’t know how to solve the problem she plotted.


Greatheart by Ethel M. Dell

1918 bestseller #6. Project Gutenberg ebook #13497. My Grade: B.


snow-covered mountains viewed from high above. People are tiny black wrinkles along path through snow.

Trekking through snow.

Greatheart concerns the three Studley siblings, Sir Eustace, Scott, and Isabel.

Since Isabel’s husband’s tragic death on their honeymoon and her subsequent mental and physical decline, the brothers have been trying in their different ways to help her back to health.

At a resort in the Alps, the brothers become acquainted with Dinah Bathurst, a perky English country girl traveling with Colonel and Lady de Vignes as companion to their daughter, Rose.

Scott is drawn to Dinah, but she’s tantalized by his handsome, athletic brother.

However, Eustace’s passionate pursuit of her soon frightens Dinah.

Scott’s attempt to discourage Eustace makes him even more determined to have Dinah.

Isabel comes out of her funk enough to try to protect Dinah, but she dares not protest when Dinah agrees to marry Eustace.

Dell is brilliant at creating suspense, and she makes Dinah’s behavior believable in light of her abusive mother and spineless father.

The only unbelievable element is sexual predator Eustace’s sudden reformation.

Unless, of course, a miracle happened.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Mary Jane Ward’s The Snake Pit is a powerful story about mental illness, as terrifying in a quiet way as anything by Stephen King.

The novel takes readers inside the mind of one mentally ill person, Virginia Cunningham.


The Snake Pit by Mary Jane Ward

Random House, 1946. 278 p. 1946 bestseller #10. My grade: A.


Virginia was living in New York and working on a novel when she began having trouble sleeping.

She recalls saying to her husband “Robert, I think here is something the matter with my head.”

As the novel opens, Virginia doesn’t even know where she is. She thinks she must be in prison doing research for a book, but she isn’t sure.

She wonders if blurred vision is causing her fuzzy thinking, so she asks a nurse for glasses.

“If I’m without them much longer I’ll go crazy,” she says.

When she says crazy out loud, she realizes she has been refusing to acknowledge she is in a mental hospital.

That realization is the beginning of her road back to mental health.

Virginia’s recovery isn’t smooth.

She is given medication, shock treatments, confined in body-temperature baths, moved from ward to ward.

Virginia never knows what caused her problems or why they recede.

She only rarely realizes she is seeing a doctor.

The Snake Pit is a classic. Don’t miss it.

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From its title and the author’s designation of herself as Mrs. Humphrey Ward, readers might expect The Marriage of William Ashe to be a light romance.

They would be wrong.


The Marriage of William Ashe by Mrs. Humphrey Ward

Albert Sterner, illus., 1905, 570 pp (approx.) 1905 bestseller #1. My grade: A


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William  Ashe is a young man of ability backed by a family with money and influence. Until he’s named undersecretary for Foreign Affairs, he’s always pretended not to care whether he appeared successful or not.

The post challenges his talents as nothing has previously done.

William knows he must marry if he’s to have a political career.

His family deplores his choice of Lady Kitty Bristol, who “comes of  a bad stock.”

William loves Kitty because she’s so un-English, so sexy, and so clearly destined to become the prey of a man as undisciplined as herself unless William’s  love can change her life.

William’s problems with his impulsive child-wife may remind readers of Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels. Unlike Glencora Palliser, however, Kitty is not just interfering; she swings from sleepless, manic hyperactivity to depression that borders on suicidal.

Also unlike Trollope, Ward uses politics merely as the backdrop to the story. Ward couldn’t care less about the Reform Bill. Her interest is in finding out what makes her characters tick.

Today’s readers will find that exploration equally intriguing.

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TItle page of Private WorldsOn one level, Private Worlds is a romance whose outcome is never is doubt. On another level, it’s a realistic story of alliances and jealousies in a closed world where the outcomes are unpredictable.

As the story opens, Jane Everett is waiting to hear whether Alex MacGregor has been named superintendent of the mental hospital at which they, respectively, head the men’s and women’s departments.

Jane is disturbed that instead of going first to his bride, Sally, Alex comes to her to say they should quit: The choice has gone to an outsider Alex’s own age who dislikes women doctors.

For Sally’s sake as well as Alex’s, Jane counsels patience.

Jane senses that though the new superintendent appears cold, he is fair and willing to listen. Jane is sure even Alex can work with Dr. Drummond if they give him a fair chance.

Trouble arises when Dr. Drummond’s sexy, manipulative sister comes to visit.

Phyllis Bottome is interested in the self-defeating behaviors of the legally sane. Instead of the horrific mental disturbances presented in The Snake Pit and Compulsion, for example, she gives us homely pictures of irrational thinking to which everyone falls prey.

Private Worlds isn’t a great novel, but its more than just entertainment. Bottome provides readers ideas to chew on.

Private Worlds
By Phyllis Bottome
Houghton, Mifflin, 1934
342 pages
My grade: B+
1934 bestseller #7

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Victorian style American home

What lies behind the Victorian facade?

Kings Row is the county seat of a mid-west town. At the turn of the 20th century, it was the sort of place that people found a good to raise their children. Author Henry Bellamann takes us behind the lace curtains for a different view.

Parris Mitchell’s parents are dead. His twice-widowed grandmother brings him up with old-world values. Older people dote on Parris. His peers respect Parris but find him odd.

The boy’s only real friends are Renee, a dull-witted girl whose father works for his grandmother, and Drake McHugh, whose deceased parents were among the town’s elite.

Parris is so innocent, it seems inevitable that he will be victimized.

Before her death, his grandmother pulls Parris out of public school and has him tutored privately to get him ready for medical school in Vienna.  Before Parris sails for Vienna, his tutor kills his daughter and himself.

When he returns five years later, Parris has learned names for the Kings Row behaviors he only intuited before: homosexuality, incest, sadism.

Bellamann, a musician by training, orchestrates his novel. The story flows with the inevitability of a great symphony, enveloping readers into the story.

When you read Kings Row, you don’t just imagine it happening: You stand beside Parris and experience it.

Kings Row
Henry Bellamann
Simon and Schuster, 1940
674 pages
1942 Bestseller #9
My grade: A+
 

Photo credit: “Victorian home”  by andrewatla http://www.sxc.hu/photo/822439

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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At the turn of the century, Wesleyan pastor John Tillyard, his wife and their  three children emigrate from their rural England home to Pepperell, Maine.  They bring little with them but their love, good sense,  and John’s copy of Walden.

John’s faith is primarily in the goodness of people, his religion not overly concerned with liturgy and theology. The Tillyards are just good people.

Thanks to the housekeeper who comes with the Methodist parsonage, the family settles into with relative ease. When John is given five dollars for a Memorial Day speech, Hilda insists her husband use it to visit Walden Pond.

On the trip, he meets the administrator of the state asylum and is invited to become its chaplain. John becomes convinced some of the residents are lonely rather than insane. He invites them to stay in the family home. Mrs. Gowan becomes a family and community favorite.

Mary Ellen Chase lets the family’s younger daughter narrate the story, which gives the novel the intimacy of memoir. The move from Old England to New England makes description of the two settings natural and vivid.

The result is a warm, homey novel as comfortable as overstuffed armchairs and flowered chintz.

The Lovely Ambition
By Mary Ellen Chase
W.W. Norton, 1960
288 pages
My grade A-
© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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