What Rough Beast. Robert Dole. Austin Macauley Publishers, 2017. 126 pages.
This is a strange, odd mess of a book. Hot and shitty? Not necessarily—but certainly weird and peculiar.
What Rough Beast is marketed as a novel but it’s more of a novella, sort of. The first half reads like notes for a memoir. The second half is formatted between the author and the main character. The unconventional structure could conceivably work but in its present form comes across fragmented and disjointed.
And that may be the point. Author Robert Dole, who left his native country, the United States, and went into permanent exile in 1968 at the age of twenty-two, after graduating from Harvard, has admitted, “I was a victim of a homophobic psychiatrist who drove me insane.” Herein is the genesis of the book, which is essentially autobiographical.
The plot summary on the back cover reads: “In 1962 Robin is forced by the Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire to undergo psychiatric treatment in order to be cured of his homosexuality. Instead of turning him into a heterosexual, his psychiatrist turns him into a schizophrenic. He has a beatific vision and gives a written account of it to the German theologian Paul Tillich, who then proclaims in Harvard’s Memorial Church: The Son of Man is in our presence. Robin thereupon goes in search of the Second Coming and discovers Mark Frechette, who will later have the star role in Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Zabriskie Point. Mark is later crucified in prison at the age of twenty-seven.”
The chief problem with the book, besides its fractured structure and simple declarative sentences (so many so that the book is often classified as a children’s book), is the erroneous notion that schizophrenia can be caused by psychiatric malpractice. The story is based on a false premise.
For readers who don’t mind all the aforementioned problems, however, What Rough Beast is an interesting read, if for no other reason that its bizarre musings on the interface between Christianity and insanity. The book also offers an interesting perspective on the 1960s as a decade.
For those interested in the horrific consequences of conversion therapy, there are several books I would read before this one, namely Deb Jannerson’s The Women of Dauphine and Peter Gajdic’s The Inheritance of Shame.