Every once in a while, a book comes along that has a subject matter that really stick with you. The Incurables struck that chord with me. I’m kind of a sucker for horror with a historical setting. Bassoff’s offering is set in 1953 and uses a real character with a sordid legacy, Dr. Walter Freeman. Dr Freeman created his name in the history books by being the physician noted for the controversial psychiatric procedure, the lobotomy. In fact, he streamlined the surgery by foregoing the traditional methods of exposing the brain with an incision in the skull and developed the trans orbital lobotomy. If you’re not familiar with that procedure, it involved an ice pick and inserting it in the tear duct of each eye socket, using a mallet to break through the soft bone behind the eye, and scrambling the patients gray matter by wiggling the pick around inside the brain. Freeman was a carnival barker-like salesman with his new procedure and would often “advertise” it as a cure-all to whatever ails you. By the early 1950s, Freeman had performed his lobotomy on thousands of patients, including the infamous Rose Kennedy.
I have to admit, I didn’t know much about lobotomies. Oh sure, I’d heard the term and knew it had something to do with messing with the brain and that it turned many people into drooling vegetables. What I didn’t know was the history of the procedure and how prevalent it was in society for so many years. I also didn’t know anything about Dr. Walter Freeman. While reading The Incurables, I found myself looking up all sorts of information on the internet about the subject and I found it chillingly fascinating.
Bassoff uses this sordid character and macabre nugget of American history and weaves a captivating tale involving Freeman being fired from his position and forced to take his carnival act on the road across the United States. He paints a chilling and vibrant tale of horror in a seedy small town in Oklahoma where Freeman preys on the desperation of bleak town rife with mental illness. The writing style is smooth and easy. The characters are well fleshed out and memorable. If there is a down side to the story, it would be that there really isn’t a sympathetic character in the whole bunch. They’re all various degrees of train wrecks. However, I found The Incurable to be an extremely enjoyable read and found that it left a haunting and lasting mark in my psyche.
4 1/2 Bloodied Ice Picks out of 5
You can also follow my reviews at the following links: