Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Book Review: "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" by Ken Kesey

Before we start this review I need to tell you about my Uncle Paul. My Uncle Paul looks weirdly like Jack Nicholson. My Uncle Paul loves terrible jokes and talking about movies, if he likes a movie he will say "guaranteed you like it!" He also told my dad once "You should watch American Pie, it's just like us when we were teenagers, I guarantee it!" Then I threw my dad a side eye and said "You're never watching that movie, and that better have not been you when you were growing up".

The somewhat point of that pointless rant is to say, yes I know this is a movie. A great movie in fact, with a great cast, so good that it won 5 Oscars! And yes it was a stage play with Kirk Douglas as McMurphy and Gene Wilder (!) as Bibbit. (It got terrible reviews). I know some of you had to read this in college, maybe a psych course? If you didn't you probably should have, because dayum. It's also one of the most challenged or banned books in the US. And it's on Time Magazine's 100 Best English Language Novels Between 1923-2005 List.

Also, this is a cukoo

Ken Kesey was inspired to write this book while working overnight at a VA hospital in Oregon. He would spend a lot of his time chatting with patients and he decided that there was nothing wrong with them, society just couldn't figure out what to do with their unconventional behavior. (He was occasionally on psychotropic drugs, just an FYI). He generally liked the movie, except that he was angry that Chief wasn't the narrator of the movie like he is in the book, and he also wanted Gene Hackman instead of Jack Nicholson.

I know this is more like a "Things you didn't know..." instead of a review, but I'm going to bring it around right now, hand to heart. But it's going to be in broad strokes, so get ready.

Story takes place in a mental hospital in Oregon. Our narrator  is Chief, who everyone thinks is deaf and mute but he's not. What he is , however is schizophrenic and he hallucinates a lot. Mostly about fog and other more disturbing things. The ward is run with an iron fist by Nurse Ratched. She gives off the impression of professionalism and caring but really she's dead inside and if anyone makes her angry they are immediately fired (for staff) or taken away to either get some kind of "therapy" or put on the "disturbed".

The other ward inhabitants, beside Chief is made up of Chronics and Acutes. Actues are higher functioning, some of them are epileptic, arsonists, a repressed homosexual and a germophobe. They all generally can get around by themselves and have the hope of one day leaving the ward. The Chronics don't have a chance of ever leaving the ward, and most are immobile, usually confined to wheelchairs. One patient, Ellis, has suffered from too much electroshock therapy and now he stands against the wall with his arms outstretched in a Christ-like pose constantly. The Lifeguard, is an ex-pro football player who has cleat imprints as proof of the injury that damaged his brain.

Into this interesting mix comes Randall McMurphy. He comes from doing "farm work", which is like prison except youre on a farm and they make you work and he is not a fan. He says that he is at the ward because he's a pscyhopath, but the general consensus around the staff is that he just didn't want to work. He is in trouble in with the law due to assault and gambling problems, also he was accused of statutory rape (but not convicted as he would be fast to point out). When Randall comes everything gets turned on it's head. He talks back to Nurse R and tries to have all the men stand up for themselves. They even go on a field trip... Nurse Ratched and McMurphy circle each other for awhile but then there's a few major incidents that really put things over the edge, and things do not end well for him or anyone really...

The one problem that I have with this book is one of personal preference. I don't do well with unreliable narrators. I feel like me and my book have an understanding that we're going to be honest with each other with what is going on, and that doesn't happen in this book. Which you know, it's understandable, Chief has some issues.I give it a 2.5, I liked it but I don't think I'd read it again. If I need it another cuckoo re-acquaintance I'd probably just get my Netflix on.

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