BIRD-EYES by Madelyn Arnold


Email this review


An unnerving first novel about life in a state insane asylum around 1965--a hideous world created so effectively that one would swear the author had been there, and lived to tell the tale. Significantly, its main character, Latisha Prentiss, is not crazy, simply a 16-year-old who ran away from her incestuous father and wound up on the streets, turning two-bit tricks, shooting up, finding solace in a homosexual relationship with an older hooker. Thus, the courts find her legally ""incorrigible"" and send her to Ward D at Eastern Central Hospital--where her fellow inmates include a Catholic woman committed because she wanted a divorce; gay Brian, one of the ""professionally insane""; and Anna, middle-aged and deaf, who became depressed after her husband's death. The case studies included are gruesome, as are the treatment techniques--heavy-duty drugs for one and all, lobotomies for epileptics, aversion therapy for homosexuals. Latisha's doctor is a Korean who grows frustrated when he can't make himself understood; male and female attendants alike want her for sex. She befriends Anna, secretly signing to her when the doctors determine that the deaf woman should be forced to speak; but then Anna packs it in and Latisha seizes an opportunity to walk out the front gate. By the end of this strongly written novel, it's obvious how life on the streets can seem more attractive than the institution. No inspiring asylum coups as in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest; here, only bracing realism.

Pub Date: May 25th, 1988
Publisher: Seal Press