Lobotomy is a terrifying word. For someone to cut into a human brain expecting the patient to benefit is, well, diabolical. Yet, a pioneer of psychosurgery, Egas Moniz, received a Nobel prize for the procedure in 1949. After WWII and continuing into the late 1960s, thousands of lobotomies were performed in the US, primarily on women. And guess what—they usually got worse. If that isn’t a horror movie, I don’t know what is.
The Lobotomist’s Wife by Samantha Greene Woodruff is not horror fiction. Instead, it’s a well-written, thoughtful account of a woman committed to helping patients who have not responded to traditional treatments. Ruth Emeraldine is bright and caring. Though not a medical doctor, she understands medicine and its role. And, without exception, she puts the patient first.
When Ruth meets Robert Apter, she’s blinded by his brilliance and infectious enthusiasm for innovative treatment of the mentally and emotionally disturbed. After attending a medical conference, Robert is convinced that lobotomy—or leucotomy—is the answer. What’s more, he believes the procedure will make him famous.
The author based Apter on real-life lobotomist Walter J. Freeman. The story is filled with rich historical detail, and other real-life characters such as Rosemary Kennedy make an appearance. My favorite aspect of the book is seeing Robert’s gradual, deliberate descent into megalomania. It’s heartbreaking when Ruth attempts to save him. And frightening when he continues to travel from state to state to perform the procedure.
If you’re looking for a thrilling and satisfying tale of psychological fiction, then The Lobotomist’s Wife should be on your reading list.
An enthralling historical novel of a compassionate and relentless woman, a cutting-edge breakthrough in psychiatry, and a nightmare in the making.
Since her brother took his life after WWI, Ruth Emeraldine has had one goal: to help those suffering from mental illness. Then she falls in love with charismatic Robert Apter—a brilliant doctor championing a radical new treatment, the lobotomy. Ruth believes in it as a miracle treatment and in Robert as its genius pioneer. But as her husband spirals into deluded megalomania, Ruth can’t ignore her growing suspicions. Robert is operating on patients recklessly, often with horrific results. And a vulnerable young mother, Margaret Baxter, is poised to be his next victim.
Margaret can barely get out of bed, let alone care for her infant. When Dr. Apter diagnoses her with the baby blues and proposes a lobotomy, she believes the procedure is her only hope. Only Ruth can save her—and scores of others—from the harrowing consequences of Robert’s ambitions.
Inspired by a shocking chapter in medical history, The Lobotomist’s Wife is a galvanizing novel of a woman fighting against the most grievous odds, of ego, and of the best intentions gone horribly awry.
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