Books and Books Coral Gables. April 30th, 2008. 8:00 p.m.
A genuine psychological thriller, Trauma is McGrath’s most addictive and enthralling novel yet. McGrath’s hero, Charlie Weir, is a psychiatrist specializing in trauma victims in Manhattan in the 1970s. His family is comprehensively dysfunctional – abandoned by his father, his mother ravaged by that betrayal, and his brother Walt, a successful artist, less Charlie’s ally than his rival. So it’s hardly surprising that he should find a vocation in psychiatry in New York City, counseling traumatized war veterans returning home from Vietnam.
Agnes Magill, the sister of one damaged soldier, soon becomes Charlie’s wife. But the suicide of her brother, Danny, ends the marriage, leaving Charlie to endure a corrosive loneliness even as Manhattan grows steadily more dirty and dangerous around him. Then, in the haunting aftermath of his mother’s death, Agnes returns to offer Charlie the solace that he has never been able to provide for her. Almost simultaneously, he is presented with a quite different anodyne – a volatile woman whose irresistible beauty, tinged though it is with an air of grievous suffering, jeopardizes everything he has hoped might restore his dwindling faith in his calling, his future, and himself.
As Charlie’s hold on sanity weakens, and events conspire to send him reeling headlong toward the abyss, the themes of family, passion and madness – by now synonymous with Patrick McGrath’s writing – rightly assume “the inevitability of myth,” as Tobias Wolff has written of his work, in “fiction of a depth and power we hardly hope to encounter anymore.”
Patrick McGrath was born in London in 1950. He was educated in England by Jesuits at Stonyhurst College and grew up in the shadow of the walls of Broadmoor Hospital, Britain’s largest institution for the criminally insane. In 1971, after graduation, he moved to Canada to work in a lunatic asylum in northern Ontario. Several years later he moved to the Queen Charlotte Island, in the northwest Pacific, close to the Alaskan panhandle. There he built a log cabin, played guitar in a bar, and began to write fiction. In 1981 he moved to New York and has lived there ever since. His first book, Blood and Water and Other Tales, came out in 1987. He adapted his 1990 novel, Spider, for the screen, and in 2002 it was released, directed by David Cronenberg and starring Ralph Fiennes and Miranda Richardson. Along with Blood and Water and Other Tales and Spider, he is also the author of The Grotesque, Dr. Haggard’s Disease, Asylum, and Port Mungo. He was the co-editor, with Bradford Morrow, of The New Gothic.
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