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Submitted Literature

Riven Rock

By T. C. Boyle


“Riven Rock” examines early formulations of sexual mania and what we would now define as Schizo-Affective disorder.  The incredibly well-researched novel contains a range of historically accurate details and explorations of madness, humanity and Darwinism. A multi-layered, dense but very readable text.

Key Themes:

  • History of Psychiatry
  • Institutional Abuses
  • Revealing Reads
  • Schizophrenia

Significant Quotes / Pages

3-4 – “For twenty years, twenty years that dripped by with the sleepy incessant murmur of water dripping from a gutter, Stanley McCormick never laid eyes on a woman.  Not his mother, not his sisters, not his wife.  No nurse or librarian, no girl in pigtails on her way to school, no spinster sweeping her porch or housewife haggling with the grocer, no slut, flapper or suffragette.  It wasn't a matter of choice.  Stanley loved his mother, his wife, his sisters, he loved other people's mothers, wives, sisters and daughters, but he loved them too much, loved them with an incendiary passion that was like hate, that was indistinguishable from hate, and it was that loving and hating that formented all his troubles and thrust him headlong into a world without women.

He was twenty-nine when he married Catherine Dexter, a woman of power, beauty, wealth and prestige, a woman as combative and fierce as his mother, with heartbreaking eyes and a voice so soft and pure it was like a drug, and he was thirty-one when he first felt the cold wolf’s bite of the sheet restraints and entered the solitary world of men.  He went blank then.  He was blocked.  He saw things that weren't there, desperate, ugly things, creatures of his innermost mind that shone with a life more vivid than any life you'd ever know, and he heard voices speaking without mouths, throats or tongues, and every time he looked up it was into the face of masculinity.

[…] And how did Stanley feel about that?  No one had bothered to ask. […] But if he were to think about it, think about the strangeness and deprivation of it, even for a minute, he would feel as if a black and roiling gulf were opening inside him, as if he were being split in two like Siamese twins cut away from its other self.  He was a husband without a wife, a son without a mother, brother without sisters.”

120 – “Though he took pains to conceal it, he wasn't really feeling himself-hadn't been for some time.  It was his nerves, that and a certain intensification of his little compulsive habits, like washing his hands over and over till the skin was raw, or adding a column of figures fifteen or twenty times because each time he was afraid he'd made a mistake and each time confirmed that he hasn't but might have if he weren't so vigilant, or avoiding the letter R in his files because it was an evil letter, one that growled in his ears with unintelligible accusations and fierce trilling criticisms.  He'd been working too hard.  Putting too much pressure on himself to perform at the top of his law school class and do the sort of job his mother expected of him at the Reaper Works. […] on the morning they left, the sun so brilliant everything seemed lit from within, he felt like a subterranean released from the deepest pit."




383-4 – “For Stanley's part, he knew something was wrong, deeply wrong, dog-in-the-mirror wrong, Mary-Virginia wrong, and it is so terrified him he felt the pain of it in every fibre and joint of his body, in the pulp of his teeth, singing out, pain, pain, pain, in his brain and his fingertips, cancerous pain, killing pain, and he wanted to cooperate with the doctor and find a way out of it, he really did. But the Judges were strict and implacable, they were captious and shrill, and they wouldn't let him.  He heard the doctor's voice clearly enough, heard the questions addressed to him, but there was static all around him, a noise of crumbling and dissent, and it sometimes drowned out the thin piping psychological voice as if it were the dying gasp of those pinched and hairy lips.  Still, Stanley was fighting it, a ritualistic fight and no one would understand, to step up and warn step down, don't step on the cracks, hold your breath for sixty seconds and the Judges  will vanish with an obscene flap of their black robes”

Reference: T. C., Boyle. 1999. Riven Rock. London: Penguin, 1999


- Charley Baker
Date Review Submitted: Friday 20th March 2009