A multiple personality case: intermittently intriguing or disturbing but without either the emotional involvement or steady...



A multiple personality case: intermittently intriguing or disturbing but without either the emotional involvement or steady persuasiveness of Sybil. The first section is strongest--as 24-year-old Billy Milligan is arrested for two 1977 kidnap/rapes on the Ohio State U. campus, behaves strangely while in custody, and then begins showing (and explaining) a whole range of personalities to psychologists and lawyers. ""Billy"" himself never speaks, having long ago been put to sleep by the others to prevent him committing suicide; however, some of his many alter egos--among them an English-accented intellectual, a Serbo-Croatian ""keeper of the rage,"" etc.--discuss the multiple-personality setup freely; and it's soon clear that Billy's disturbance was largely caused by abuse/rape from a stepfather. (The personality in control--""on the spot""--during Billy's rapes was, it seems, a love-hungry lesbian named Adalana.) Billy is examined by psychiatrists, including Sybil's Dr. Cornelia Wilbur. And, after some therapy (""Billy"" is woken up, attempts at ""fusion"" begin), he is judge-tried and placed in a hospital after being found not-guilty by reason of insanity--the first such ruling in a multiple-personality case. Then, however, Keyes (coyly called ""the writer"" throughout) enters the picture, meeting a newly-emerged all-in-one Billy personality called ""The Teacher."" And the next 170 pages are Keyes' dramatization of Billy's whole life-story according to ""The Teacher""--who supposedly has ""total recall"" back to the age of one month. The credibility here takes a nose-dive, especially since it later turns out that Billy's speedy fusion into ""The Teacher"" quickly collapsed, not being ""real fusion"" at all. Even worse, Keyes' narrative approach (similar to that in his limp multiple-personality novel The Fifth Sally) often presents Billy's inner fracture as cartoon-like rap sessions and quick-change acts. So the result is iffy, often tedious or ludicrous--as Billy's other selves pop in and out (never with adequate psychological explanation) from the time of his father's suicide, through his stepfather's brutality, juvenile crime, reform schools. . . up to the Ohio rapes. A brief final section is of far more solid interest: the wretched, suicidal ups and downs of Billy's spotty therapy; the bureaucratic mess that has left him in an institution where he can't be treated properly. In fact, if Keyes had concentrated on the facts here, this could have been a riveting book. Instead he offers glib fictionalizations of dubious material--unlike Sybil, Billy has hardly begun to be fully analyzed--and this is therefore an uneven, often unconvincing treatment which fides along passably well on the case's inherent fascination.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1981

ISBN: 0553263811

Page Count: -

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1981