(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

This novel provides an inside look at schizophrenia and the experience of mental hospital patients, as well as a glimpse of the emotional cost to the family of a mentally ill child. Jacob and Esther Blau commit their sixteen-year-old daughter, Deborah, to the care of a well-known psychiatrist, Dr. Clara Fried, after the girl has attempted suicide. Three years of slow, almost imperceptible progress with occasional backslides into Ward D, the last refuge for the violent and the lost, must pass before Deborah finally chooses reality over the private world that she calls the Kingdom of Yr.

As Deborah gradually reveals more of her past and her imaginary world to the skillful and sensitive Dr. Fried, the roots of her illness come to light, yet they are never entirely clear. This lingering uncertainty actually lends plausibility to the story, for it avoids oversimplification.

Deborah’s problems apparently started when she was five years old, with two traumatic events: a very painful operation for a tumor and the birth of a baby sister. She had presumably been caught by her parents just as she was about to murder the new baby by dropping it out the window. Her parents had pretended to ignore the episode, beginning the sustained “lie” that she could be a worthwhile person. The therapy is quite advanced before Dr. Fried demonstrates that the murder scene was entirely imaginary, a projection of a child’s momentary death wish for the new rival. Deborah at last realizes that her parents had not been covering up the dreadful truth about her attempted murder all those years. They had not even known about it.


(The entire section is 669 words.)