A group of doctors and patients at a psychiatric hospital scramble through each day in this meandering sequel (Kinzua State: Earthshine, 2010).
Dr. Jerome Masonheimer, a psychologist at Kinzua State Hospital, has just been assigned an overly ambitious intern, Elsa Heinzelman, and a new patient, Garner Overton, a smart manipulator with a history of anti-social behavior. In absorbingly tight prose, narrator Masonheimer exposes the intricacies of the psychiatric institution, including the dangerous outcomes when the eager Elsa underestimates the intelligence of its most formidable patient. This storyline alone would have sufficed in Geiger’s capable hands, but the staggering number of characters and hodgepodge of subplots—many worthwhile—could provide fodder for books of their own. Masonheimer conducts a poetry group where a diverse cast of minds meet, including Ophelia, a 22-year-old anorexic self-mutilator; Harvey, a boisterous rambler who “mills about with paranoid, paleologic thinking”; Lincoln, a Native American who communicates with spirits; and Cora Ruth, a depressed senior who has lost her family. Geiger, a psychologist for over 30 years, uses these poetry gatherings as glimpses into each patient’s broken psyche, but this gem-filled tangent competes for space with other goings-on, such as the saving of the campus greenhouse or the machinations of the hospital’s Historical Preservation Committee. Violent outbursts, consequences of understaffing and administrative biases play important roles in Kinzua State’s more than 100-year history; Geiger zealously explores each issue, to the novel’s detriment. What’s missing, however, is a turning point for its narrator. This is Masonheimer’s tale, yet little is revealed about him. When chaos erupts between his intern and Overton, he displays his psychological finesse, but Geiger holds him at a tangible distance from the reader, for reasons unknown. The wealth of subject matter holds many promising possibilities for sequels.
Authentic insights into the day-to-day operations of a psychiatric institute, told in broad strokes.