The above illustration, "Blowing Bubbles," has been adapted for use here by generous permission from the artist, Cyril Rolando.

August 18, 2009


SYNOPSIS: Twenty-seven Marines, housed in a Gothic mansion, are either mentally disturbed or they're faking it. When standard treatment fails to provide either progress or evidence, a new psychiatrist is brought in, Col. Hudson Kane. Kane's methods are unorthodox but at least he is gaining the inmates' trust. But Kane has his own issues, heavy baggage from his past. Can he resolve his problems without betraying the men who need his help?

REVIEW: I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Michael over at Lazy Thoughts From a Boomer for sending this book to me. Published in 1978, it's a slender volume compared to today's novels, clocking in at a svelte 135 pages. That's good because I had to re-read it right away, that's how much I enjoyed this story.

Because the story is relatively brief, no words are wasted in an attempt to be lyrical or poetic. Yet somehow there are moments of utter poetry in the exchanges between doctor and patients, and in Kane's own introspective reasonings.

The hospital is populated with men who are well-educated, bright, witty, and pitifully disturbed, and they come at Kane over and over again with questions and challenges right out of left field. Most prominent is the unofficial leader of the men, astronaut Captain Billy Cutshaw -- imagine Hawkeye Pierce with a religious fixation -- but there's also Lt. David Reno, formerly a B-52 navigator, now busy adapting Shakespeare's plays for dogs; and there's also the hospital's medical officer for physical ailments, the presumably sane Dr. Fell, who claims he was misassigned, that he is a pediatrician. But the rapid fire banter between the patients and their minders is less like the sparring in M*A*S*H, and closer to, oh, say the verbal tennis match in Tom Stoppard's classic play, Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. It's okay for the reader to laugh, but that doesn't mean he shouldn't carefully weigh what is being said.

Amid the constant chaos of his characters, Blatty addresses issues of mistaken identity, faith and spirituality, and the nature of love and sacrifice. The story is tightly woven, deeply moving, and wonderfully thought-provoking. The ending is both reassuring and yet will tear the heart out of the reader.

In this excerpt, Dr. Kane has just arrived at the hospital and been shown to his office by the medical officer, Fell, when Billy Cutshaw interrupts them and begins testing the newcomer now in charge.
Kane heard heavy breathing. Cutshaw was standing inches away, his eyes staring madly, shining and wide. "Okay, now I'm ready for my ink-blot test," he said. He swooped to the chair, dragged it over to the desk, sat down, and looked expectant. "Come on, let's go."

"You want an ink-blot test?" asked Kane.

"What the hell, am I talking to myself? I want it now while you're fresh with all those roses in your cheeks."

Kane wiped his face with a handkerchief. "We have no Rorschach cards."

"Like hell. Take a look in the drawer," Cutshaw told him.

Kane pulled the desk drawer open and removed a stack of Rorschach cards. "Very well," he said, sliding into the chair behind the desk.

Fell ambled toward the desk to observe.

Kane held a Rorschach card up and the astronaut leaned his head in close, his eyes scrunched up in concentration as he studied the ink blot.

"What do you see?" asked Kane.

"My whole life rushing past me in an instant."


"Okay, okay, okay: I see a very old lady in funny clothes blowing poisoned darts at an elephant."

Kane replaced the card with another. "And this one?"

"Kafka talking to a bedbug."


"You're full of shit, do you know that?"

"I thought it was Kafka," Fell interjected, studying the card with interest.

"You wouldn't know Kafka from Bette Davis," Cutshaw accused him. "And you, you're a mental case," he told Kane.

"Yes, maybe I am."

Cutshaw rose and said, "Ingratiating bastard. Do you always play kiss-ass with the loonies?"


"I like you, Kane. You're regular."

Cutshaw tore the medal and chain from his neck and tossed them on the desk. "Here, take the medal. I'll take a book." He snatched How I Believe by Teilhard de Chardin.

"And now you'll be good for a week?" asked Kane.

"No. I'm an incorrigible liar." Cutshaw walked over to the door and threw it open with such force that again the crash loosened plaster from above. "May I go?" His voice had a childlike earnestness.

"Yes," said Kane.

"You're a very wise man, Van Helsing," said Cutshaw in an imitation of Dracula, "for one who has only lived one life." Then he loped out the door and disappeared from view.


  1. Wow! This sounds rich...I'd never heard of it before this. Thanks Corey - and Michael!

  2. This is one of those books I would encourage everyone to read, but I would be extremely loathe to loan my copy.

  3. I'm really happy you enjoyed this. Out of all of the Blatty books I've read (and it was one of the last), this one has always stuck with me. And Blatty did a pretty decent adaptation for the screen (which he also directed). That's worth checking out, too. And the author does a very good commentary track, as well. Thanks for the review, Corey.

  4. I tried to wade through The Exorcist once. Thanks to you, this book has opened a door in my mind, and I'm willing to give Blatty's other works a chance.

  5. That is funny (strange) that you should mention The Exorcist. It's the first Blatty I ever read (immediately after I took the movie in - 1973). And the author has expressed that The Ninth Configuration has always been his unofficial sequel to that tale. His official sequel remains Legion, and if you get back and finish The Exorcist, I highly recommend you follow it up with Legion. Those three are a remarkable set (you'll instantly recognize some of the same terrificly written dialogue as like Ninth).

    And I see the author has finally come out again with a new book, which I'm going to have to pick up: Elsewhere. Thanks, Corey.

  6. For those that are interested, there is a web site on this work.