W-3 by Bette Howland


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Howland was committed to the psychiatric ward of an unidentified metropolitan hospital for ""rehabilitation"" after a suicide attempt (although she relates the event, we are never really clear why she tried to kill herself). In W-3 Howland assumes the role of the impartial, detached observer. Daily routine consists of taking drugs, struggling to keep up personal appearances, holding meetings to recommend on passes and recreation, dealing with the medical students. Then she becomes aware of the frightening reality of Cootie refusing to speak, Gerda stubbing cigarettes on herself, a man beating his head on the wall. But the lines separating doctors from patients don't seem that clear: the staff is almost as strange as the inmates. She soon sees that ""patients existed for the sake of the hospital, not the other way around."" Without sentimentality or rhetoric, Howland conveys, above all, the human support the patients gave each other. What's missing is an exploration of Howland herself: why is she there? how can she be such an accurate, compassionate reporter when she has just attempted suicide? One suspects that she is not facing up to herself. But the book remains a compelling chronicle of people trying to make do in a world which eludes their grasp.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1974
Publisher: Viking