A Brief Lunacy Summary
by Cynthia Thayer

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A Brief Lunacy

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Author Cynthia Thayer introduces readers to Carl, a successful former surgeon and his school teacher wife, Jessie. Jessie begins as narrator filling readers in on the comfortable, homey details of their current life. Quickly empathizing with the Jensens, readers learn of their hardships raising a mentally-ill daughter, Sylvie.

Sylvie has once again escaped from her confinement in a psychiatric hospital. Jessie is most disturbed by the uncertainty of her daughter's whereabouts and well-being. When an unusual young man arrives at the remote Jensen home later that day seeking shelter, Carl and Jessie maneuver in opposite directions while deciding whether or not to let him in. Jessie prevails and Jonah (as the youth calls himself) comes in to spend the night. Each of these three characters has a unique relationship to Sylvie.

Throughout the rest of the novel this husband and wife react to each other's horrors as abused hostages. Sometimes their actions are orchestrated as a functioning team, and at other times they work in opposing directions. Eventually, it becomes clear that Jessie is the stronger, more courageous partner.

As the hostage crisis develops, Carl's very identity is challenged. Then, Jessie must make crucial decisions alone when Carl is greatly weakened, both physically and mentally, by his ordeal. As he endures his present humiliations and wounds, Carl silently recalls his devastating experiences in Nazi-occupied France. The details of his horrific experiences at age seventeen comprise a suspenseful narrative within a narrative.

Thayer handles narrative and psychological complexities with a refinement and an ease. She has crafted truly individualized, complex characters in a relatively brief novel.