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Dr. William T. Friedrich suffers from "Sock Moments," catatonic moments of stillness which he cannot explain but which obviously arise from a series of seemingly innocent, unforeseen events. A former Yale University professor, Dr. Friedrich made a decision motivated by the desire to make a meaningful difference in the lot of psychologically ill patients but also fostered by the "publish or perish" mentality of the scholarly competitive world of Yale academia.
The decision was to explore, with one of the few female Yale professors - Dr. Bunny Winton - open to academic collaboration, the pharmaceutical benefits of "gai kau dong." This plant is made with kwina, grown only in New Guinea, and Dr. Friedrich has had the foresight to purchase enough to fill a small factory. After testing this concoction on rats and even accidentally experiencing its effects himself, Dr. Friedrich decides to try the drug on an obviously mentally ill patient, Casper, who is saved from suicide by Dr. Friedrich's wife. Transformed to an almost megalomaniac state, Casper is now enraged because he no longer has the substance that freed him from his darkest, crazed moments. But what no one realized is that Casper is now a highly intelligent madman bent on revenge.
Dr. Friedrich knows how ill Casper is, calling him a "highly functioning obsessive compulsive with marginal schizophrenic tendencies;" but realizing most human beings, including himself, could similarly be diagnosed, he decides not to check Casper into a psychiatric hospital. That decision proves to be the worst Dr. Friedrich ever made!
The rest of the novel deals with the effects of Casper's devastating revenge, two acts that twist the sanity of the entire Friedrich family. It's a poignant, sane yet insane series of circumstances that will move any reader with a beating heart, the search for reason and well-being in a world gone awry, a thriller to readers but the nightmare to those living the experience!
Pharmakon: A Novel is a fascinating look into the world of pharmacology, the world whose pills and panacea have more far-reaching effects than its designers and testers foresee. It's a world where those possible side-effects and contraindications accompanying any medication for the mentally challenged become a chilling but all to real reality!
Reviewed by Viviane Crystal on August 2, 2008