Sunday, October 12, 2008

Reception at High Tower by Dewey Ward [1969]

This is a spectacular powerhouse of a story. Definitely rates 5 stars. Took me a bit longer than I'd anticipate to read it, as it is a complex and involved story.

I found the cover at the Gothic Romance message board, in their library of images.

Maurie Thomas, 28 and divorced, has suffered a nervous breakdown. The story opens with her last day of hospitalization in New York City. Reading the opening paragraphs, I immediately knew this was going to be a knock-out story.

Maurie is being discharged to the care of her grandmother, whom she refers to as "Grannie." She's hated Grannie for as long as she can remember, and the feelings are absolutely mutual. Maurie's divorced father lives with Grannie at High Tower, a countryside estate in New Hampshire which boasts fine riding horses.

Maurie has undergone shock therapy treatments. The side effect is amensia. Even the basics of her past life is unknown or a vague blur. As the story progresses her memory begins "filling in" ... albeit slowly. She does recall the mutual hostility and hatred she and Grannie share.

But how did all these negative feelings come about? And whose fault was it, primarily?

Maurie dreads returning to High Tower. But her only other option is admission to the state mental hospital. She very reluctantly chooses to return "home."

Her condition doesn't improve once at High Tower. Things begin happening to and around Maurie. Is it her doing these things? Was she well enough to be discharged from psychiatric care? Or is it Grannie, who refuses to pay for private psychotherapy, trying to drive Maurie into a permanent breakdown and hospitalization? Just when it seems apparent that Maurie is the victim of a malicious and nasty bitch of a grandmother, something happens which makes you wonder just how stable and rational she really is.

Maurie, on the verge of another nervous collapse, tries to recall her past. Enormous pieces of the puzzle which is her life remain out of reach. What exactly drove her mother away from High Tower? How did her brother Sam die? What was it about concentric circles and fire and water and a face which terrified her so? Why is she afraid of the slow-witted farmhand named Gus?

Had she been responsible for all or some of it, or was it Grannie? Or was it neither of them?

And as if this weren't enough, the townsfolk of Newbury despise Maurie. Her being the granddaughter of the wealthy and influential Grannie does her no good. She's a friggin' nut, a mental case who deserves to be locked up and should have remained so. They treat her like dirt, spread wild rumors...except for Dr. Brian Peters, Don & Pat Farmer (who run a roadhouse bar-hotel). It's a gritty and realistic story.

Many times this book was difficult to read on that basis.

The story includes rape, lesbianism, prostitution, two gentle romances, suspicion of murder, cruelty. It's perfectly paced; holds one's attention and keeps you straining at the collar, wanting the answers to be finally revealed!

The cast of characters as I visualized them:

Maurie Thomas: Mostly as she appears on the cover art; a blend of pretty brunette women of the time [age 28]
Nurse Moore: Michael Learned [age 45]
Angie: Kirsten Dunst [age 17]
Grannie: Helen Mirren [age 71]
Sam Thomas, Sr.: Bryant Keith [age 50]
Laura Thomas-Robinson: Nancy Kovak [age 47]
Dave Andrews: Earl Holliman [age 33]
Dr. Brian Peters: Visualized him as a somewhat nice-looking though nondescript man of average height, pleasant face, brown hair, brown eyes [age 37]
Pat Farmer: Sheilah Wells [age 53]

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