Tuesday, February 10, 2015

"The Forgetting Place"

John Burley worked as a paramedic and firefighter before attending medical school in Chicago and completing an emergency medicine residency at University of Maryland Medical Center and Shock Trauma in Baltimore. His debut novel, The Absence of Mercy, received the National Black Ribbon Award in recognition of an author who brings a fresh voice to suspense writing.

Burley applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Forgetting Place, and reported the following:
When Dr. Lise Shields arrived at Menaker State Hospital five years ago, she was warned that many its patients—committed to the correctional psychiatric facility for perpetrating heinous crimes—would never leave. “The word asylum,” she notes, “has long since fallen into disfavor to describe institutions such as this. And yet, for places like Menaker, I’ve always preferred the original term. For although we attempt to treat the chronically impaired, much of what we offer here is protection—an asylum from the outside world.”

Protection is a recurring theme in The Forgetting Place, a novel of psychological suspense that explores the illusion of safety in our lives and the measures we are willing to take when the welfare of those we love is threatened. On page 69 of the novel, Lise’s patient Jason Edwards is recounting an assault he sustained as a teenager, and how his older sister—his protector—responded to that incident:
“The second time they came for me was in the school bathroom,” Jason tells Lise. “I fought back hard that time—hit one of the boys, Tim Maddox, in the windpipe, putting him out of commission. Clayton Flynn took a kick to the knee that I hope he still feels on rainy days, and I kept swinging at Bret Forester’s pimply, bulldog face, trying to break his nose for the second time. But there was a fourth boy, Billy Myers, who was mean, quiet, and probably the only one of them with true lethal potential. He’s locked up in a maximum-security prison somewhere right now, I just know it, but on that day he snuck up behind me while most of my attention was on Bret and he hit me in the back of the head with something hard and metal, and that’s all I remember of the fight until I woke up to a small crowd of students around me, some teacher’s voice calling my name, and my head resting on the lower lip of a urinal.

“They took me to the hospital—my fourth visit in two months—only this time the ER doctor was a woman who made small noises I couldn’t interpret and shook her head as she examined me. They did a CT scan of my brain, which was thankfully normal, kept me overnight for observation, and discharged me the next morning with a diagnosis of concussion.”

Jason’s eyes cleared for a moment. “My sister came to visit me in the hospital,” he recounted. “She sat at my bedside and studied me, saying very little. I had other visitors, of course, but it was her presence that I remember the most. We must’ve spoken to each other during that visit, but the only thing I remember was what she said to me just before leaving. She walked over to the bed, leaned forward, and planted a kiss on my forehead—which was pretty unusual behavior for her. She drew back a bit, observed me with a calculating look. I thought she was going to give me a brief lecture, tell me something useless like how I needed to stop fighting and just stay away from those kids. But what she instead said was, ‘This will not happen again.’ Then she turned and left, leaving me to wonder how she could promise a thing like that. Yet, somehow, I believed her, and a half hour later I pulled the string to shut off the fluorescent light above my bed, closed my eyes, and slept better than I had in weeks.”
Jason’s sister will go on to back up her promise with near-lethal consequences, leaving Jason to wonder if the protection she provides is more dangerous than the original threat. It is a question the reader must also consider as the protection and threats of Menaker State Hospital continue to unfold, blending into each other until they are as indistinguishable as the infinite caverns and recesses of the human mind.

The Forgetting Place: Where the past waits to be discovered once again.
Visit John Burley's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Coffee with a Canine: John Burley and Sterling.

The Page 69 Test: The Absence of Mercy.

--Marshal Zeringue