Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Novel 'Asylum' published: in memory of Frank Beazley, and to benefit Zambarano Hospital

Crossroad Press has just published Asylum, the second book in my Thunder Rise trilogy (stay tuned for book 3, Summer Place). Asylum is available as an Amazon exclusive on Kindle. Proceeds will benefit patients at state Zambarano Hospital, in Pascoag, R.I., home of the late Frank Beazley, inspirational artist, poet, champion of the disabled and my dear friend (proceeds will go to Patients for Progress, the fund Frank started). The story of Frank, in my 12-part 2006 Providence Journal series, is my favorite of the many narratives I have written. Frank died in 2012.

I hope Asylum will appeal to readers of horror and mystery -- who may already have been drawn into the vortex of the mountain I call Thunder Rise, in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. The trilogy stories begin in my first novel, Thunder Rise, first published in 1989 and recently re-released in digital format, and soon also to be an audio book.

Here is the blurb for Asylum on Amazon:

With the support of his wife, Sharon, young neurosurgeon Nick Emin has left medicine to pursue his longtime dream of architecture -- and now he has just won his first big contract, to design a luxury resort from the remains of an old state psychiatric hospital that lies in the shadow of Thunder Rise. It seems his decision to quit operating was wise, after all, despite the criticism he endured when he put down the scalpel.

Taking up temporary residence near the long-closed Elmwood State Hospital, Nick is slowly drawn into the institution -- and back in time, to when Nazi-inspired experimental surgery on the mentally ill was conducted behind the old brick walls of Elmwood. And not just lobotomy, once so widely practiced in America...

The pull of Nick into Elmwood’s past is no random development or horror-novel cliché. With his neurosurgical expertise, Nick has been called for a specific reason, by a specific person he will come to know well -- someone of great importance to him. When Sharon becomes pregnant with their first child, Nick begins to understand.

But first, the enigmatic Saint Peter and his friends have a mission for Nick that pits him against Elmwood’s inhumane administration -- a mission of salvation with terrible consequences if it fails.


Asylum is fictional, but its essential elements are real: the long, tragic history of institutionalizing the mentally challenged and disabled, and others society deemed as "unfit." This history spans America (and many foreign nations), and Rhode Island, where I live, has its own shameful past. Some of my earliest stories for The Providence Journal were about abuses at the Ladd Center and Institute of Mental Health. In part because of the public-service writing of The Journal, both institutions are now closed. I invite you to read more about the impact of public story on public policy.

And take a moment to read the essay with which I introduce Asylum:

A note to readers

This is entirely a work of fiction. I created the characters and events.

But I did not create the historical circumstances in which Asylum is set.

Not so very long ago –– within my memory as a journalist who covered their dying days –– American institutions for the mentally ill and disabled were as depicted in these pages: warehouses that often became laboratories for the mistreatment of our fellow human beings. Residents suffered needlessly, and endlessly. Time dragged. The real world faded until it was gone. Hydrotherapy, insulin, electro-shock treatments, lobotomy, forced sterilization, all of which are mentioned in this book -- all were real. All were commonplace. Untold numbers of lives ended beneath unnamed concrete markers in potter’s fields.

Since the 1980s, when I began covering these issues for The Providence Journal, many of these institutions have closed. I would like to be able to report that our society’s treatment of the people who once filled them has become more enlightened. And while there are some communities where this is indeed the case, and while I know of one institution where care is compassionate and first-class –– Zambarano Hospital, in Pascoag, R.I., where Frank Beazley, to whom this book is dedicated, lived for so long –– overall, little has changed. Many of the mentally ill and disabled are now imprisoned –– one institution having replaced another. Many are on the streets, lost, abandoned, and often abused. Some are war veterans, which adds an additional layer of national shame.

And all remain subject to ugly stigma that pervades our society. Stigma that is based on the absurd notion that disorders of the brain are somehow different than disorders of any other organ. 

Are we so lacking in compassion?

Have we learned nothing?

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