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Riven Rock [Paperback]

T.C. Boyle
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 25 1999
T. C. Boyle's seventh novel transforms two characters straight out of history into rich mythic figures whose tortured love story is as heartbreaking as it is hilarious. It is the dawn of the twentieth century when the beautiful, budding feminist Katherine Dexter falls in love with Stanley McCormick, son of a millionaire inventor. The two wed, but before the marriage is consummated, Stanley experiences a nervous breakdown and is diagnosed as a schizophrenic sex maniac. Locked up for the rest of his life at Riven Rock, the family's California mansion, Stanley is treated by a series of confident doctors determined to cure him. But his true salvation lies with Katherine who, throughout her career as a scientist and suffragette, continues a patient vigil from beyond the walls of Riven Rock, never losing hope that one day Stanley will be healed.

Blending social history with some of the most deliciously dark humor ever written, Boyle employs his hallmark virtuoso prose to tell the story of America's age of innocence--and of a love affair that is as extraordinary as it is unforgettable.

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From Amazon

In 1905, Stanley McCormick, heir to East Coast millions, is most definitely mad. Heredity and an early, horrifying glimpse of his naked sister have rendered him schizophrenic, incapable of being around women--right down to his wife, Katherine, "a newlywed who might as well have been a widow." Not even the dawn of modern psychiatry can save him. Instead, he's barred and carefully cosseted in Riven Rock, the California estate he helped design for his sister, the first of the McCormicks to crack. Will the 31-year-old patient be cured? His wife, the first female graduate of MIT, believes that he will. So, too, does his loyal head nurse, Eddie O'Kane, a preternaturally articulate, handsome Boston Irishman. Indeed, Eddie thinks himself blessed with good luck. Going to Montecito to care for Mr. McCormick will, he is convinced, enable him to take center stage in the drama of his own life.

Over the next 20 years, Stanley will go from catatonia to a semblance of normality (so long as there's no woman in sight and no sharp cutlery on the table). Eddie, however, will never play the leading role he'd envisioned, instead taking refuge in alcohol and recollections of the one woman he thinks he has let get away, the plainspoken, explosive Giovannella Dimucci. When Eddie first describes his patient's violent response to women, "he wondered if he'd gone too far, if he'd shocked her, but the mask dissolved and she leaned in close, her hand on his elbow. 'Sounds like the average man to me.'" As for Katherine McCormick, she will still visit every Christmas, hoping to at least see her husband if she can't see him get better.

Based on a true story, Riven Rock is unclassifiable, a discomforting and often hilarious mix of tragedy and comedy. (Only Orson Welles could do the book justice on film.) T. C. Boyle writes in a controlled frenzy of rich description and dialogue, pulling us up sharply each time we begin to wonder if his patient isn't a helpless victim. Eddie recalls one nurse before Stanley "got to her": "She was a shadow in a back corner of his mind, a cat you pick up to stroke and then put down again when it stops purring.... Now she was back in Rhode Island, with her mother, but the look of her that day, the way her eyes had melted away to nothing and the color had gone out of her so you could see every lash and hair on her head like brushstrokes in oil, came to him in infinite sadness."

Boyle has great empathy, but there is no avoiding his novel's comic energy. Stanley's first psychiatrist-jailer, Dr. Hamilton, is obsessed with primate sexuality and will go to Riven Rock only if Katherine funds a large living laboratory. He spends all of his time watching the imprisoned creatures copulate, a pathetic counterpoint to his patient's plight. The sight of the disheveled doctor following one animal encounter amuses even the suspicious Katherine. "To his credit, the doctor laughed too. And O'Kane, the bruiser, who'd gone absolutely pale at the tiny hominoids that couldn't have weighed a twentieth of what he did, joined in, albeit belatedly and with a laugh that trailed off into a whinny." Alas, all goes awry when Hamilton takes the joke too far and declares his chimps "the very devils--they're even worse than my patients." Riven Rock is a maximum-velocity study of love, primal energy, and what is sacrosanct in society: control. It is also about loyalty, absurdity, domesticity, and depravity, all of which, Boyle knows, coexist within the best of souls. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

When Stanley McCormick, the brilliant but highly strung son of the inventor of the Reaper, marries Boston socialite and MIT graduate Katherine Dexter, the papers call it the wedding of the century. But the marriage is never consummated, and after a disastrous honeymoon, a catatonic Stanley is moved to Riven Rock, a prisonlike mission in Santa Barbara. Diagnosed as a schizophrenic sex maniac, Stanley is to be kept entirely separate from women, including Katherine, who may speak to him only by telephone. Katherine goes on to become a major figure in the burgeoning suffrage movement and even smuggles a steamer trunk full of contraceptives into the country in support of Margaret Sanger, but she never divorces her husband or gives up hoping for a cure. Riven Rock resembles The Road to Wellville (LJ 3/15/93) in its send-up of medical quackery in the early years of the century, but here the fact-based love story takes precedence over satire. This affecting and surprisingly mature novel is Boyle's best book since Water Music (1981). Recommended for most fiction collections.
-?Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
How his hand came into contact with her face-her sweet plump irritating little burr of a wifely face that found a place beside his each night on the connubial pillow-was as much a mystery to O'Kane as the scalloped shell of the sky and the rain that fell a Read the first page
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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Dramatic and Peaceful April 17 2003
This story is not at all a quick read. This story has to be savoured, because it accomodates so much descriptive detail - both about characters and physical places or objects. But everything is carried out in a very quiet way. I mean, that the reader gets to know and absorb the beings along the book. Beings that ihabit various environments throghout their time, this also being layered in an absolutely natural way. The reader never gets the feeling, that Boyle wants to go a determined path. It just happens - and suddenly you notice you have been transported in some direction. And you accept it and you are glad. The wohle book is the evidence of this dexterity. It starts, where it should start and ends how it should end - full stop No redundancy in anything at all, related to the developement of the story. Boyles manner and style suits the contents perfecly well.
For me this capability is the synonim to rich writing.
About the story:
Reading other reviews or the publishers note is enough to be acquainted to the main idea. So I will skip the resumee and leap to make reference to the relationship between Stanley McCormick and his head nurse Eddie O`Kane.
For me the bondage between the two is the most fascinating aspect of the entire book. Stanley is cathatonic. And Eddie? If he is not, he certainly leads a similar life. Not in the pathological way, but in its contents. And perhaps,in order to understand Mr. McCormick, the only possibility you have, is to become as close to cathatonic as you can get and as Eddie does and did, profoundly, in the end.
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...[this book is] More about the absence of love, or all the spaces that people call love. Does Katherine really love Stanley just because she stayed married to him through all his years in the institution? She loves her companion Jane. She had something to prove to Stanley, or to his family. If you look at Katherine the book is somehow about frustration or misdirection, but certainly not about love.
Male sexuality? I certainly hope (being a heterosexual woman) that the book isn't about male sexuality. I don't believe that all women are frigid, castrating and repressive. And I don't believe that all men are aggressive, bestial and nasty. ...I suppose if this book, for me, was about anything it's about a kind of layer that people have between their feelings and their essential selves. In Stanley that layer was madness. In O'Kane it a kind of avoidance and obtuseness. In Katherine it's a dedication to causes that seems to replace any real awareness of self.
So what's well-written about this book? It's smart about people. Smart about history. It's textured and vivid and everything a book should be.
So what don't I like about it? It's grotty, somehow. I don't like the picture that it painted of people-- the dirt and the violence. There's no redemption here. ...
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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Character Study,,, Yet a bit too long Aug. 10 2002
3 and a half stars...
What is most interesting about Boyle's book, like "The Road to Wellville" is that it is based on true people in America's past. This particular foray into the past is about the mentally unbalanced son of the McCormick reaper fortune, whose illness pivots around his inability to get along in society with those of the opposite gender. Between his overbearing mother and his equally unbalanced and revealing older sister, Stanley's ideas of women are odd, to say the least.
While I read the book, I felt an urge to look up Stanley McCormick in the history books and find out how much is true about him. He is, however a rather flat character. Yet, Stanley's longtime nurse, Eddie O'Kane, who follows his wealthy employer to California, the land of promise, of orange groves, of unlimited wealth (supposedly), is a much more interesting character. We are allowed to see inside Eddie's thoughts and are privy to his equally distorted views of women's place in the world.
Boyle layers his novel in three overlapping and related narratives. First, there is the most "current" storyline, which begins with Stanley's departure from the east coast to the secluded family mansion ("Riven Rock") of Santa Barbara, California. This story unfolds before us, telling of the various doctors employed by Katherine, Stanley's still-young wife, who so badly wants to see her new husband well again, although to say "again" suggests that she has ever truly witnessed him in a sustained state of mental wellness.
Then, within this main storyline, is the background of the early years of Stanley and the unconventional courtship between himself and Katherine.
Finally, throughout the novel, including the first scene, we see events through O'Kane's eyes.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant historical fiction Jan. 14 2002
T.C. Boyle writes with a manic energy and a sardonic edge that render each and every page dazzling, riveting, and thoroughly enjoyable. He felicity of expression is matched by few of his contemporaries among American novelists (Jonathan Franzen, Tom Wolfe, and John Irving come to mind for me). Consequently, no matter what subject matter he chooses, his books are always a joy to read.
Boyle apparently encountered the historical basis for *Riven Rock* soon after he moved to the Santa Barbara area some years ago. Yes, Stanley McCormick, the tall, handsome youngest son of the legendary inventor of the mechanical reaper, was indeed schizophrenic, he did indeed marry the wealthy socialite Katherine Dexter in 1904, and he did indeed spend most of his adult life locked away with doctors, nurses, and attendants in a palacial Montecito estate. In *Riven Rock*, Boyle takes the historical misfortune that was the McCormick-Dexter marriage and transforms it into a fascinating story that is at once tragic, bizarre, and pathetic, and yet which is also riddled with sometimes unexpected touches of humor.
The humorous veneer to this otherwise tragic tale stems from Boyle's skills as a savage social critic with an unerring eye for the foibles that are part and parcel of the human condition. Having already caricatured the faddish American cult of health and nutrition in *The Road to Wellville*, Boyle here lampoons the pretentions of early twentieth century psychiatry and in a broader way, the overall vapidity of upper class life and discourse.
And Boyle does so much more.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Well, WE loved it
RIVEN ROCK is not like anything you've ever read, but I'll attempt to relate it to something for the purposes of getting the point across. This book was a strange one. Read more
Published on March 8 2005 by BethDeHart
2.0 out of 5 stars Bookclub recommendation...
If it were not for "having" to read it for bookclub, I never would have picked this downer book up..... and still wished that I did not!
Published on May 16 2004 by snowblaze
5.0 out of 5 stars Realistic portrayal of mental health
This book is a little slow to read but very well written. If you have ever worked in a psychiatric hospital, you will enjoy this book.
Published on April 4 2004 by CJF
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely Engaging!
I had read "The Tortilla Curtain" with my book group and was intrigued by T.C. Boyle's style of writing. Read more
Published on June 12 2003
2.0 out of 5 stars Big Disappointment
TC Boyle is my favorite author and Riven Rock was the only book of his I had not read (including his short story collections). I was very dissapointed in this work of his. Read more
Published on March 21 2003 by Don E. Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars subversive and fun
a must read. this book will make you both laugh and cringe, plus it manages to me moving at the same time. I can't reccomend it highly enough.
Published on June 25 2002 by "ssssssssssssssssssssss"
5.0 out of 5 stars Historical fiction with a sharp edge of reality and humor
Riven Rock is fiction based on history and it's worth reading for all its parts -- the fiction, the history and especially for the superb depiction of psychosis. Read more
Published on June 30 2001 by Michael Sandman
5.0 out of 5 stars A Strange Story.
A very well-written, compelling tale. Really pulls you in and keeps your attention. The strangest part of all is that it is for the most part a true story. Read more
Published on June 29 2001 by V. Kibler
2.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat Dissapointing
Sadly, while this book aims high, it falls short of it's full potential. Mr. Boyle is a fantastic writer, and the he portrays Stanley McCormick in a very vivid and realistic light,... Read more
Published on June 26 2000 by R. Konopka
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