Trauma tells the story of Charlie, a divorced psychiatrist who specializes in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Charlie has spent his life taking care of his mentally ill mother and a brother-in-law who suffered from PTSD as a result of his tours of duty in Vietnam. After his brother-in-law dies, he ends his marriage, unable to cope with his guilt. After his mother dies, Charlie finds himself emotionally orphaned and without someone in his personal life to fix. What’s a psychiatrist to do living like that?
This novel takes place in New York City during the 70s and perhaps 80s. The Twin Towers are being built and viewed from many angles throughout the novel and are almost a character themselves, symbolizing stability in a city full of disillusioned Americans struggling to deal with the aftermath of the Vietnam War. I found this to be the best, most subtle, and thought-provoking commentary on our current war. The reader is free to draw one’s own conclusions or even not notice it at all because there is no break in the narrative to make a political statement. In the end, the novel is more timeless this way. While the story itself will always have a specific time and place in history, there is no blatant political commentary targeted at a 2008 audience that will interfere with readers 100 years from now.
I have always enjoyed Patrick McGrath, the more Gothic the better. This novel isn’t his most Gothic, but he is in great form. It reads quickly and is entertaining and interesting. I prefer Asylum to this and all of his other novels, still I found the tension to be perfect. Even after mulling Charlie over for the past few days, I’m still not sure if he is a reliable narrator. To me, this is a good thing. This way I am able to look back on a novel both with trust and full of questions. Each view provides an interesting twist. Of course, the mother is always to blame which ever way you slice it, but that’s another story.
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