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Last night I finished one of the most disturbing, upsetting, and ultimately inspiring novels I have ever read.  Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is an incredible book.  The movie version is excellent but cannot touch the original novel.  Narrated by the half-Indian Chief Bromden, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest follows the events in a mental institution following the arrival of loudmouth criminal Randle Patrick McMurphy.  McMurphy has schemed his way into the asylum, thinking it will be an easier way to finish the remaining six months of his sentence.  The ward is run by the tyrannical Nurse Ratched, Big Nurse as Bromden calls her.  Ratched uses subtle manipulation and emasculation to keep the men of the ward under her total control.  McMurphy does not fit into her system.  An epic battle of wills follows, with McMurphy fighting for both himself and for the wounded manhood of his fellow patients.  McMurphy is no saint, as he readily admits.  He is brash, violent, and a first-class con man.  He rises above his reputation in an effort to restore his newfound friends to something like a real life. 

I think the mark of a great book is what it can teach you about human nature and society in general.  Kesey’s book points out the little bit of insanity that lives in all of us.  He shows how thin the line between stable and unstable can be, and how easily a perfectly well individual can be driven to the brink of madness by the cruelty to be found in the world.  The picture is not hopeless.  McMurphy inspires the men to reclaim the humanity that the world and Nurse Ratched have taken from them.  Kesey makes clear his view that the weakest man is still a man, and deserves to be treated with the same decency to which every human is entitled.

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19 Read, 81 To Go