Started: February 17, 2011
Completed: March 13, 2011
Boisterous, ribald, and ultimately shattering, this is the unforgettable story of a mental ward and its inhabitants, especially the tyrannical Big Nurse Ratched and Randle Patrick McMurphy, the brawling, fun-loving new inmate who resolves to oppose her. We see the struggle through the eyes of Chief Bromden, the seemingly mute half-Indian patient who witnesses and understands McMurphy’s heroic attempt to do battle with the awesome power of the Combine. Hailed upon its publication as “a glittering parable of good and evil” (The New York Times Book Review) and “a roar of protest against middlebrow society’s Rules and the invisible Rulers who enforce them” (Time), this powerful book is as bracing and insightful today as it was in the 1960s.
- From the back of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, by Ken Kesey
I remember seeing a high school play version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest a long time ago - and I use “remember” in the most lenient definition of the word. As a result, I went in to the book, knowing how it would end, which was a point against it. Not to mention that it was technically by some definitions a “classic,” and I’ve already mentioned in my review of Dorian Gray my aversion to classics. So although I was excited to read Cuckoo’s Nest, I didn’t exactly have high hopes for it.
Thankfully, I was more than pleasantly surprised. I thought that almost every aspect of the book was good - I enjoyed watching the conflict between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched, and I thought all of the characters were interesting and believable. That last part is important, I think. I don’t normally pay attention to whether or not characters are “believable,” but there are certainly many actions and reactions that the characters have in this book that make perfect sense for them to have. The specific incident that spurred this train of thought for me, I think, is when McMurphy backs down from his fight when he finds out the length of his commitment is up to Nurse Ratched, only to later change his mind when Ratched goes (in his opinion) one step too far. Normally, this wishy-washy back-and-forth would feel like wasted space to me, but it was an internal conflict that made perfect sense to me in this case.
In fact, the one character that I think I had any issue with was the Chief, who narrated the story. I didn’t think that he was a bad character - he was certainly interesting in his own ways, such as how he faked being deaf and dumb, and I really enjoyed the parts when he talked about “the Combine,” his theory that all authority figures are trying to force people into acting in one specific way (apparently this theory inspired the Combine of the Half-Life series). But on the whole, I found his character uninteresting and he lacked a lot of appeal that the other inmates had.
And then the ending, while I knew that it was coming from page one, still ended up being surprising in how abruptly it occurred, and the ultimate fate of McMurphy still affected me in a great way. Overall, while Cuckoo’s Nest lacked a lot of stand-out elements that have distinguished other books I’ve read so far, I still think it’s one of the strongest ones of the year.
World War Z, by Max Brooks