One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

 by Ken Kesey

I picked this book to start my reading project because for some reason, a story about a mental hospital was strangely appealing to me. Other than the setting, I didn't know anything about the book. But I was hooked before even getting into the story itself, when I learned that much of the book was inspired by Kesey's time spent as a test-subject for drugs in a hospital during the early 60s. I was intrigued. 

From his introduction:
"...The doctor deposited me in a little room on his ward, dealt me a couple pills or a shot or a little glass of bitter juice, then locked the door. He checked back every forty minutes to see if I was still alive, took some tests, asked some questions, left again. The rest of the time I spent studying the inside of my forehead, or looking out the one little window in the door. It was six inches wide and eight inches high, and it had heavy chicken wire inside the glass.
      You get your visions through whatever gate you're granted.
Patients struggled by in the hall outside, their faces all ghastly confessions. Sometimes I looked at them and sometimes they looked at me, but rarely did we look at one another. It was too naked and painful. More was revealed in a human face than a human being can bear, face-to-face."

He later came back and worked in the same ward, further inspiring his book.

The story:
Told from the point of view of quiet Mr. Bromden (Mr. Broom to the other patients), we learn about life in the mental ward. It is run on a very strict and precise schedule, where every day is more or less the same, with the occasional patient outburst. Big Nurse Ratched runs the show. She is all about control and conformity. Then a new patient, known to the others as McMurphy, shows up and stirs the pot, neatly pulling the rug from beneath the domineering boots of Big Nurse by doing whateverhedamnwellpleases.

This book is hilarious. There was more than one occasion where I laughed out loud and my husband thought I was a crazy person. However, it's not necessarily a comedy. Below the funny moments lies a serious undertone, as the patients try to figure out who they are and why they're there. Eventually their lives are changed by this newcomer who helps them see themselves as more than just Chronics, Acutes, and Vegetables, while he simultaneously learns to care about others instead of just himself.

One of my favorite quotes:
"While McMurphy laughs. ...Because he knows you have to laugh at the things that hurt you just to keep yourself in balance, just to keep the world from running you plumb crazy."

I loved this book. If you haven't read it, you should. And if you have, I recommend that you revisit it sometime, so you can enjoy the shenanigans of McMurphy and his friends all over again.

1 comment:

Symantha said...

I read this book in high school! Well...I was supposed to. Maybe I'll ACTUALLY read it one day.