THE THANATOS SYNDROME by Walker Percy

THE THANATOS SYNDROME

A Novel

KIRKUS REVIEW

Dr. Thomas More, Feliciana Parish psychiatrist, bad Catholic, boozy and allergic, makes a return in Percy's quasi-sequel to Love in the Ruins (1971)--and though the apocalypse seems just as certain now as it did then, things in this near-future seem somewhat calmer than were the earlier book's race wars. Euthanasia (both of helpless children and helpless oldsters) is general, AIDS and Alzheimer's patients are quarantined, and Dr. More himself has spent some time in Federal prison in Alabama for selling amphetamines to long-haul truckers (Percy's not one to put too glamorous a sheen on his heroes). But out on parole now, More notices odd findings in some of the few patients he has left, as well as in other people (including wife Ellen). They seem increasingly affectless, mindlessly well-balanced, given to specific information but not abstraction--and, weirdest of all, they are exhibiting primate-like behavior: public grooming, rear sexual presentation by females, etc. What's going on, it turns out, is a little bit of rogue socio-medical engineering by a bunch of local research doctors who are feeding heavy sodium ions into the drinking water of selected Feliciana Parish populations, and achieving spectacular results: no crime, no rape, no unemployment, no existential terrors, no alcoholism--at the price, however, of turning these people into monkeyish robots. And More--of the old school, someone who appreciates the up as well as down side of a good spiritual malaise--tracks down this Nazi-like experiment and endeavors to do something about stopping it. Percy has it all at his fingertips--the lovely character details, the ambiguous heroism of More, the fond eroticism--but maybe a little too much so: the thriller-like core of the book, tracking down and closing up the heavy-sodium project, has twice the this-and-then-that procedure it needs, half the novelistic shading; you get a sense of Percy bespelled by his own facility at writing low-brow in a high-brow framework. And like later Waugh, the comedy relies on types rather than on individual rascals (the exception is the wonderfully venal chief of the heavy-sodium doctors, Bob Comeaux). Love in the Ruins held together better, but a continuation of that book's specifically moral and at the same time antic lope is no bad thing at all; Percy fans will find it very agreeable, despite the thinness.
Pub Date: April 1st, 1987
ISBN: 0312243324
Page count: 386pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1987




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