One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Ken Kesey's acid-tinged writing is incredibly incisive and intelligent. His exploration of not only the broken mental health care system of the mid-to-late 20th century, but the plight of mental illness in its varying forms.
Far ahead of its time -- probably even ahead of our time -- the devastating novel is even more rich and nuanced than the landmark Milos Forman movie adaptation.
Randle McMurphy, a walking id and embodiment of American excess, daring and longing, pretends to be insane to beat a criminal rap that has sentenced him to a work camp. Conniving and brimming with bravado, he rebels against the controlling, infantilizing infrastructure that crushes the hearts and minds of those who are committed.
The genius of the novel starts with the narrative device of telling the story through the ever-churning mind of Chief, a gentle giant whom others dismiss as a checked-out, mute man whose mind has been so scrambled that he can't process human interaction and has become a drone obsessed with mopping.
Instead, Chief is secretly a master of observation, nuance and intense feeling. He processes his surroundings for the reader, acting as the entry point.
In the Audible version, John C. Reilly's urgent narration gives listeners an even deeper, more nuanced access to Chief's inner workings.
A tragic and ephemeral experience, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" floored me with its style, substance and urgency. It was one of the rare books that broke my heart not only in its storytelling, but that it ended altogether.
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