THE WORLD AS IT IS by Norma Klein


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Something of a departure for Klein: a very adult and cutting look at the world within a mental institution--where, the author makes it clear, the inmates ""aren't crazy. . . They are just people with mental problems."" In fact, even the staff of the Lionel Nash Institute of Mental Health in New York is afflicted; psychiatric nurses have breakdowns, and Stuart Stern--the frightening young doctor who will become the new assistant director--practices a sadistic brand of analysis by intimidation, then calms himself between sessions with marijuana. As the story opens, Stern loses two patients due to his carelessness with doses of Thorazine, a glitch covered up by his superior. But he meets his match in a new patient, 34-year-old Alix Zimmer, a lawyer who's simply suffered through too much grief in the last few years and, thus, goes berserk at a wedding. Alix enters Nash willingly but is horrified to learn that, once there, she can be released only with the consent of two doctors and her husband. When she befriends a fellow patient who lost control while teaching sex education to a class of tough high-school students, Stern accuses her of seduction. Escape becomes her only option, since her cool husband sides with the doctors. Safe on the outside at last, Alix files for a divorce, adopts a Korean orphan, and returns to her legal career, investigating mental malpractice. Klein's mood is crisply antiseptic, which makes the book effective, but hardly the emotional ride of a One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Still, her point stands, that people with ""mental problems"" can be damaged, not repaired, by institutionalizing.

Pub Date: April 3rd, 1989
Publisher: Dutton