Tuesday, April 24, 2012
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
Leonard understood why psychiatrists did what they did. Their imperative, when confronted with a manic-depressive patient, was to nuke the symptoms out of existence. Given the high suicidality of manic-depressives, that was the prudent course of action. Leonard agreed with it. Where he differed was in managing the illness. Doctors counseled patience. They insisted that the body would adjust. And, to an extent, it did. After a while, you’d been on the drugs so long that you couldn’t remember what it felt like to be normal.
A better way to treat manic depression, it seemed to Leonard, was to find the sweet spot in the lower reaches of mania where side effects were nil and energy went through the roof. You wanted to enjoy the fruits of mania without flipping out. It was like keeping an engine operated at maximum efficiency, all pistons firing, perfect combustion generating maximum speeds, without overheating or breaking down.
What had ever happened to Dr. Feelgood? Where had he gone? Now all you got was Dr. Feel-O.K. Dr. Feel-So-So. Doctors didn’t want to push the envelop, because it was too dangerous and difficult. What was required was somebody daring, desperate, and intelligent enough to experiment with dosages outside clinical recommendations, someone, that is, like Leonard himself.
At first, he just took fewer pills. But then, needing to reduce in smaller increments than 300 milligrams, he began cutting his pills with an X-acto blade. This worked well-enough, but sometimes sent pills shooting onto the floor, where he couldn’t find them. Finally, Leonard bought a pill cutter at the P-town pharmacy. . . He took things slowly, dropping his daily dose top 1,600 milligrams for a week and then to 1,400. Since this was what Dr. Perlman promised to do in another six months, Leonard told himself he was just speeding things along a bit. But then he took his dose down to 1,200 milligrams. And then down to 1,000. And finally all the way down to 500.
In a Moleskine notebook, Leonard kept a precise record of his daily dosages, along with notes on his physical and mental state through-out the day. . .
The notion that he was carrying on significant scientific work entered Leonard’s head so smoothly that he didn’t even recognize its arrival. It was just suddenly there. He was following in the daring tradition of scientists like J.B.S. Haldane, who’d put himself into a decompression chamber to study the effects of deep-sea diving ( and perforated his eardrum), of Stubbins Ffirth, who’d poured vomit from a yellow fever patient onto his own cuts to try to prove that the disease wasn’t infectious. Leonard’s high school hero, Stephen Jay Gould, had been diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma just the year before, given eight months to live. Rumors around were that Gould had devised his own experimental treatment and was doing well.
Leonard plan to confess to Dr. Perlmann what he’d been doing as soon as he’d compiled enough data to prove his point. Meanwhile, he had to pretend he was following orders. This involved feigning side effects that had already disappeared. He also had to calculate when his medications would run out naturally, in order to refill them often enough to avoid suspicion. All of this was easy to do now that he could think clearly again.
The problem with being Superman was that everybody else was so slow. Even at a place like Pilgrim Lake , where everybody had high IQs, the pauses in people’s speech were long enough for Leonard to drop off his laundry and return before they finished their sentences. So he finished their sentences for them. To save everybody time. If you paid attention, it was amazingly easy to predict the predicate of a sentence from its subject. Only a few conversational gambits seemed to occur to most people. They didn’t like it when you finished their sentences, however. Or: they like it at first. At first, they thought it indicated a mutual understanding between the two of you. But if you did it repeatedly, they became annoyed. Which was fine, since it meant you didn’t have to waste time talking to them anymore.
This was harder on the person you lived with. Madeleine had been complaining about how “impatient” Leonard was. His tremor may have been gone but he was always tapping his foot. Finally, just that afternoon, while helping Madeleine study for the GRE, Leonard, unhappy with the pace at which Madeleine was diagramming a logic problem, had grabbed the pen out of her hand. “This isn’t art class,” he said. “You’ll run out of time if you do it so slow. Come on.” He drew the diagram in about five seconds, before sitting back and folding his hands over his chest with a satisfied air.
“Give me my pen,” Madeleine said, snatching it back.
“I’m just showing you how to do it.”
“Will you please get out of here? Madeleine cried. “You’re being so annoying!.”
And so it was that Leonard found himself, a few minutes later, vacating the unit in order to let Madeleine study. He decided to walk into Provincetown and lose more weight. . . .
Being alone increased the volume of information bombarding him. There was no one around to distract him from it. As Leonard strode along, thoughts stacked up in his head like air traffic over Logan airport to the northwest. There were one or two jumbo jets full of Big Ideas, a fleet of 707s laden with the cargo of sensual impressions (the color of the sky, the smell of the sea), as well as Learjets carrying rich solitary impulses that wished to travel incognito. All these planes requested permission to land simultaneously. From the control tower in his head Leonard radioed the aircraft, telling some to keep circling while ordering others to divert to another location entirely. The stream of traffic was never-ending; the task of coordinating their arrivals constant from the minute Leonard woke up to the minute he went to sleep. But he was an old pro by now, after two weeks at Sweet Spot International. Tracking developments on his radar screen, Leonard could bring each plane in on schedule while trading a salty remark with the controller in the next seat and eating a sandwich, making everything look easy. All part of the job.