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The Thanatos Syndrome: A Novel Paperback – September 4, 1999

3.7 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Psychiatrist Tom More of Love in the Ruins reappears in one of the most accessible of Percy's novels. The author has not abandoned his serious inquiry into the nature of good and evil, but he has integrated his philosophizing into a fast-paced narrative with the suspense of a thriller. When Moreon parole from federal prison where he did time for selling drugsreturns to his Louisiana hometown, he immediately notices bizarre personality changes in many people, including his wife Ellen. All exhibit suppressed cortical function, manifested in strange speech patterns and sexual behavior. With the help of his cousin, epidemiologist Lucy Lipscomb, More discovers the source of this syndrome: the town's drinking water has been laced with heavy sodium from the area's nuclear facility. Leading citizens of the community are involved, all in the name of benevolent eugenics and social concern. Parallels to the workof Nazi doctors are made obvious to More by a disgraced parish priest. Tension grows as the conspirators threaten to send More back to jail if he exposes them. As usual, Percy's ear for languageespecially the layers of meaning in even the most casual conversationis superb. This book is as timely as its concerns with child abuse and ultraconservative zealotry, and as classic as its exploration of the eternal verities. 75,000 first printing; BOMC dual main selection.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

When psychiatrist Tom More returns home to Feliciana, Louisiana, after doing time at a minimal security prison, he is dismayed by the bizarre behavior he encountersthe "curious flatness of tone," the loss of sexual inhibition, of complex speech, even of context in conversation. More is further dismayed to discover that fellow psychiatrist Bob Comeaux is masterminding an unauthorized scheme to eradicate social ills by manipulating cortical functions through surreptitious doses of heavy sodium. And the suspense is only beginning, for More wants to investigate signs of sexual abuse at his children's school. The loss of human response smacks of a grade-B horror filmMore himself speaks of "bodysnatchers"and the moral implications of social engineering, though given the most contemporary interpretation here, have already been considered. But in crisp, masterful prose Percy delivers a relentlessly compelling tale. BOMC dual main selection. Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1 edition (September 4, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312243324
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312243326
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #412,914 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By loce_the_wizard VINE VOICE on May 17, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Ignore The Thanatos Syndrome at your own peril. The last novel of the late Walker Percy, this often harrowing, sometimes humorous (darkly, at least) tale should set off alarms bells as you read through this thriller. The notion of Walker Percy penning a thriller is, of itself, something odd, and a point that apparently raises the ire of many academics and even many dyed-in-the-wool Percy readers.

And this book is different from say, The Moviegoer, in which the inward musings and vexations of the protagonist are fairly insulated from the outside world and its views, opinions, influences. Moreover, Dr. More does not act as the prototypical loner characteristic of some of Percy's other protagonists. Percy's decision to write this novel as more of a fast-paced thriller, the central story occurs over just three days, must have been his attempt to shoot a flare that would draw attention to the dehumanization that started coalescing with more fervor some 15 years ago. (Now civility may be a lost cause: people consider it proper to conduct public arguments with unseen opponents by blathering all manner of nonsense into their cell phones.)

And so the flawed hero, the same disheveled, womanizing, fallen Catholic psychiatrist Thomas More, practically stumbles upon a scheme to control human behavior by adding radioisotopes to the water supply. After all, the perpetuators of the scheme remind him, look what fluoride has done for oral health. What if we can eliminate depression, crime, disease, and enhance learning, cognition, and memory at the same time? Relying on his beloved bourbon to keep him grounded, Dr. More, fresh out of prison for supplying truckers with uppers, finds his wife and children swept up in the scheme.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Thanatos Syndrome relies upon a flimsy detective story to examine the greatest issues facing Americans (perhaps all of Western culture) as we enter the 21st century. Not that the genre device fails, but that it seems so inconsequential next to the ideas which hang upon it, like the rod that supports the wardrobe of existence, itself.
Although this novel was written in the late 20th century, it feels as if it could be today or tomorrow. We are introduced to themes that are totally familiar, yet somehow bizarre: sex detached from love (and/or procreation), emphasis on results at play/work/and school, social engineering, amorality, mercy-killing, faith in the rightness of science/technology/and progress, abandonment of of our humanity. All this, and yet readable, engaging, absorbing and memorable.
If you are interested in an entertainment that makes you think and ponder the great issues of existence, while keeping you turning the pages, I highly recommend this book.
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Format: Paperback
Walker Percy was southern and Catholic, Kurt Vonnegut was northern and secular, not minor differences, but perhaps they recognized each other as literary relatives. Both were inclined to use comedy, at times the slapstick variety, in order to talk about some of the unfunniest subjects in the world, like war, euthanasia, abortion, and other justifications we cook up for killing one another.

Percy's hero in this book, as in his earlier novel, Love in the Ruins, is Dr. Thomas More, resident of a rural Louisiana parish (what we yankees call a county) and a direct descendent of St. Thomas More. Like his ancestor, he has been a prisoner, but for selling amphetamines to truckers rather than for acts of fideility to conscience. Also like his ancestor, he is a Catholic, except in the current generation, things being what they are, More's connection to his Church is threadbare. Still there is a bit of religious glue holding body and soul together. Tom More isn't able to make himself comfortable with the contemporary mercies that pave the way to the gas chamber and the abortorium.

In The Thanatos Syndrome we encounter a few psychiatrists who makes heaps of money running the Qualitarian Center, where the old and/or feeble-minded are provided with Death with Dignity. In their spare time, using a federal grant, the clever doctors are in the midst of a local experiment that they regard as the best idea since fluoride in toothpaste. While sticking to bottled water for themselves, they are lacing the water supply with a substance (borrowed from a nearby nuclear generator) that knocks out the part of the brain that makes people dangerous and miserable. Violent crime has evaporated in the area effected.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
The Thanatos Syndrome was Percy's last novel before his death, and in many ways it is his final triumph.
It is one of Percy's great gifts to use absurdity and humour to introduce the gravest of concerns. Not surprisingly, therefore, Percy uses the comic genre of a detective novel. Thanatos breezes through a series of interviews with aberrant and suspicious characters, sleuthing, romance and false leads, en route to the creation of a casefile of premeditated wrongdoing. But like Dostoevsky (who also made use of the detective novel), Percy's intent is not primarily on spinning a good whodunnit, but on motivation and human character. The picture is shocking and even funny (particularly in the denouement), but it is certainly not pretty.
Readers looking for a joyous romp through the bayous or else the pacified work of a Catholic apologist need not bother with this book. Not only is this novel disturbingly explicit at times, it contains a Grand Inquisitorial holocaust memoir. While connections to late 20th century America and the Weimar elite run the risk of exaggeration, Percy's AWOL anchorite priest, Father Smith, certainly gives much to think about. Does tenderness really lead to the gas chambers?
Thanatos is actually a sequel to another dystopian drama, Love in the Ruins (1971). Connections to the earlier book, however, are broad and thematic. The protagonist is still Dr. Tom More, the randy bad catholic, fence-sitting introvert, and disturbed, marginalized expert on cortical functions and heavy sodium. Little mention is made, however, of More's lapsometer, of futuristic technology, the Ecuadorian conflict, or the racial and partisan conflict characteristic of Percy's earlier book. It is less a novel about 'the end of the world' than it is about the decay of civilization.
A disarming, smart book.
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