Intensive Care, though divided into three official parts, actually consists of two stories which occur years apart and which are tenuously connected only by a pear tree on Tom Livingstone’s property in Waipori City, New Zealand. The first story, encompassing parts I and 2, chronicles the events experienced by three generations of the Livingstone family; the second part, which occurs sometime after a nuclear war (it is set during King Charles’s reign perhaps it is the not-so-distant future), describes the implementation of the Human Delineation Act, which involves the classification, for economic benefit, expediency, and convenience, of people as either Human (“normal”) or Animal (the old, weak, deformed, retarded, or even politically suspect), with the Animals being “deathed.”
Since Tom was born at the turn of the century, his life represents the twentieth century, with its illusory dreams, bitter disappointments, elevation of technology over humanity, and replacement of family by impersonal institutions. Through a disjunctive narrative, multiple narrators, and a mixture of prose and poetry, Janet Frame depicts a man whose dreams destroy him. While recovering in England from war wounds, Tom meets and falls in love with his nurse, Cissy Everest, and then returns, like a dutiful husband, to his wife in New Zealand, where he leads a dull life working in the furnace room of a factory. Because he cannot rid himself of his dream about Cissy (he never gives up the photograph of them at Stoke Poges), he “turns off his valve of feeling” for Eleanor, his wife, distances himself from his children, who leave the home as soon as possible, and finds meaning in tending the “Flame,” until his job is eliminated by progress in the shape of a machine. As soon as his wife dies, sixty year-old Tom travels to London to find his “dream girl”; after he breaks his leg, he is sent to Culin Hall, a “recovery...
(The entire section is 788 words.)