The protagonist of Magnificent Obsession, brilliant brain surgeon Dr. Wayne Hudson, has his own hospital in Detroit, a worrisome playgirl daughter, and a beautiful young bride. While on holiday, he drowns after a water accident because a respirator he kept handy was being used to resuscitate a drunken young man who was friends with his daughter, Joyce. The young man, Bobby Merrick, awakes in Hudson’s hospital and is mystified by the coldness with which he is treated by the staff. He learns of Hudson’s death through Nancy Ashford, the hospital superintendent who has devoted her life to Hudson. Nancy suggests that Bobby can assuage his guilt by using his wasted potential to take Hudson’s place. While Bobby considers this proposition, he learns that Dr. Hudson has secretly given money, advice, and help to countless people, declining to be repaid by saying, “I’ve used it all up.” Bobby decides to embark on the quest to replace Hudson and becomes friends with Nancy, who shares with him all Hudson’s papers, including a secret journal written in code. Bobby accidentally meets Helen, Hudson’s young widow, who becomes attracted to him without knowing who he is.
By decoding Hudson’s journal and interviewing Hudson’s devotees, Bobby learns that the surgeon achieved professional success through a series of clandestine good works, swearing his beneficiaries to secrecy. Bobby, who scorns churches and religion, is at first disillusioned to learn that Hudson’s method was extracted from the teachings of Jesus. He is intrigued, however, with Hudson’s assertion that one can do, be, or have anything one wants by following this secret formula, which Hudson claimed revolutionized his life. The key to power, according to Hudson’s...
(The entire section is 720 words.)