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The M.D.: A Horror Story (Supernatural Minnesota #2)

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Dr. William Michaels owes his worldwide success to a mysterious talisman with terrifying powers. The talisman can only perform if Michaels "charges" it through chilling acts of deliberate evil, and Michaels becomes trapped in a world ravaged by monstrous disorders. "One of the best novels of horror-fantasy I've ever read".--Stephen King.


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Dr. William Michaels owes his worldwide success to a mysterious talisman with terrifying powers. The talisman can only perform if Michaels "charges" it through chilling acts of deliberate evil, and Michaels becomes trapped in a world ravaged by monstrous disorders. "One of the best novels of horror-fantasy I've ever read".--Stephen King.

30 review for The M.D.: A Horror Story (Supernatural Minnesota #2)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Robert Dunbar

    Newsweek called him our “most formidably gifted unfamous American writer.” Talk about damning praise. When Thom Disch shot himself in 2008, I felt the loss deeply, though I'd only met the man once and could hardly have called him a friend. But then I imagine that many of his readers reacted this way. Disch was always something of a phenomenon. His novels – especially The Genocides, Camp Concentration, 334 and On Wings of Song – loom among the classics of New Wave science fiction, and connoisseurs Newsweek called him our “most formidably gifted unfamous American writer.” Talk about damning praise. When Thom Disch shot himself in 2008, I felt the loss deeply, though I'd only met the man once and could hardly have called him a friend. But then I imagine that many of his readers reacted this way. Disch was always something of a phenomenon. His novels – especially The Genocides, Camp Concentration, 334 and On Wings of Song – loom among the classics of New Wave science fiction, and connoisseurs of the genre still speak of him in tones bordering on the reverential. Such an extraordinary body of work! The man’s versatility alone astonishes. Forget all the awards his fiction won. His six volumes of poetry were praised by critics, and his nationally published theatre reviews consistently displayed rare levels of erudition. (The legal problems that his own play, The Cardinal Detoxes, encountered with the Catholic Church became the stuff of off-off Broadway legend.) Then – after more than 25 years as a respected figure – he suddenly turned his hand... to horror. I think it was the last thing anyone expected. But in truth, though his oeuvre resists categorization, dark elements could always be detected. Early collections like Getting into Death and Fun with Your New Head infused the weary literature of dread with some desperately needed creative vigor, even going a long way toward providing a veneer of counter-cultural chic. But it was the science fiction magazines of the sixties that nurtured the man’s iconoclastic talent, and it’s this very background that continued to render him so radical a force. Whereas SF stems from a long tradition of enlightened speculation about the nature and fate of mankind, few horror novels since Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus can boast a philosophical basis. (This isn’t the place to editorialize about how reactionary the horror genre has become, but decades of popular novels in which some nasty creature of foreign origin and/or ambiguous sexuality menaces a nice family have all but defanged it. Buy me a beer sometime, and I’ll talk your ear off on the subject.) The MD may be nearly unique among contemporary works of supernatural terror: a serious and thoughtful novel that seeks to provoke a response altogether more complex than goosebumps. Though it possesses many of the elements of traditional horror (a creaking staircase in an old dark house, something ghastly hidden in the cellar), the fears it catalogs are not culled from folklore. As in the most intellectually valid forms of SF, those efforts rooted in Wellsian traditions of social commentary, Disch employed freewheeling invention to emphasize influences already present in everyday life, postulating an America in which public ignorance, governmental corruption, and industrial greed have collaborated in rendering the planet barely habitable. New diseases abound, and fundamentalist groups oversee concentration camps for plague victims. Horrible. The book ventures into that most alarming of speculative realms -- the all-too-plausible future. The premise, however, remains as fantastic as any nightmare. At the root of all human evil, somewhere deep in the chromosomes, lie supernatural influences. One such malignant creature appears to young Billy, first in the guise of a pagan Santa Claus, later as the god Hermes. And his gift to the boy – a dead bird with some wire twisted about a stick – very nearly destroys the world, for this grisly Caduceus can truly heal but only in direct proportion to the extent that it first afflicts. Thus begins a savage dialectic on the corrupting influence of power. If the plot possesses a major flaw, that flaw lies in its vigorously schematic nature, but its rewards claim a similar source. The construction of The MD may appear convoluted, with its many asides and epiphanies of character analysis, but as it traces Billy’s growth to adulthood and his climb toward becoming the most powerful physician in the world, it attains a rare purity of function: it induces absolute horror.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Robert Beveridge

    Thomas M. Disch, The M.D. (Berkley, 1991) There's a scene about halfway through The M.D. that really shows why Thomas M. Disch, though not a household name in letters, is revered by critics and discerning bibliophiles. I'm usually the harshest of reviewers when it comes to message fiction, that strain of writing where the plot is stopped in order for the writer to advance a point of view. But there's a debate here between a tobacco advocacy group executive and a bright thirteen-year-old boy that Thomas M. Disch, The M.D. (Berkley, 1991) There's a scene about halfway through The M.D. that really shows why Thomas M. Disch, though not a household name in letters, is revered by critics and discerning bibliophiles. I'm usually the harshest of reviewers when it comes to message fiction, that strain of writing where the plot is stopped in order for the writer to advance a point of view. But there's a debate here between a tobacco advocacy group executive and a bright thirteen-year-old boy that is so sparkling, not to mention well-written, that it's actually one of the best parts of the book. And I don't even agree with the viewpoint that wins. Of course, this could be because unlike most message fiction, Disch actually manages to make this debate integral to the plot. Yes, I mean integral; it sets up a couple of things that aren't exactly plot points, but that the whole framework of the fourth part of the book rests on. This isn't just some guy ranting, it's some guy who's plotted his book out in such detail that he knows exactly how far he can go with this diatribe and still get away with it. That's the mark of a master, and make no mistake about it—Thomas M. Disch defines “master”. He's like the Einsturzende Neubauten of American writers; not well-known by the public, but hugely influential among those who do the same thing he does. The M.D. is the story of Billy, who is six years old and stuck in Catholic primary school as we start the book. After being told by a nun that Santa Claus doesn't exist, Billy contradicts her—after all, he's seen Santa Claus with his own two eyes. This exchange ends with Billy being sent to the office, but he never gets there. Instead, he runs away (without his coat in the middle of winter) to his private place, a secluded part of the local park, where we find out that maybe Billy isn't kidding, for Santa Claus appears to him again and promises that he's going to tell Billy a secret sometime soon. And when he does, this time appearing in the guise of the god Mercury, what a secret it is. Billy's annoying older brother Ned has created a makeshift caduceus in order to terrorize Billy; he took two twined sticks and tied a dead bird to them. Not your classic caduceus, to be sure, but where the sign of Mercury exists, he can invest it with power. And he bequeaths the caduceus to Billy, who can use it to heal. But it has a finite amount of energy. In order to replenish it, Billy must also make things sick... This is your basic three-wishes story, but unlike most stories of this type, we have a thoughtful protagonist who actually learns from his mistakes as he goes along. That alone would make it worth your time, for it's one of the few innovations that could make such a clichéd storyline worth reading again. But Disch writes with an eye to, well, just about everything. We often love writers for doing one thing exceptionally well; Stephen King's absolute mastery of characterization, Dorothy Dunnett's intricate plotting, James Michener's meticulous research. Disch has taken all of the ways in which a writer can specialize and balanced them. It all works here, and it all works exceptionally. My only problem with the book is something that couldn't have been foreseen in 1991; he sets the fourth part of the book in 1999, and as usual with such things, what it looks like on paper and what it actually looked like are such different things that I can't help laughing at it. Also, as you might expect from some of my comments above, Disch tends towards fairy tale-style language here. Most of the time it's not at all intrusive, and it lends the book an interesting, amusing tone for being the drama/medical thriller novel that it is. Once we get into the fourth section, though, and head into the world of fantasy/sci-fi, the mix falls flat. Perhaps I've been spoiled by the recent steampunk and mythpunk books that have done it so perfectly, but that part of the book doesn't work as well as the first three. Still, the obscurity into which this book has fallen is a crime. Not surprising, given that Disch is not the literary rockstar he deserves to be, but saddening anyway. Find a copy and discover, or rediscover, the wonderful world of Tom Disch. *** ½

  3. 5 out of 5

    Pam Baddeley

    This is in many ways a powerfully written novel of dark humour mixed in with horror. A huge story is packed into 541 pages, covering among other things. inherited genetic disease, climate change (very prescient for something published in 1991), mass plague and tyrannical governmental response, corporate corruption, the tobacco industry, eating disorders, religious fanaticism and racism. All these themes are woven into the narrative with sometimes breathtaking virtuosity and the characters are fo This is in many ways a powerfully written novel of dark humour mixed in with horror. A huge story is packed into 541 pages, covering among other things. inherited genetic disease, climate change (very prescient for something published in 1991), mass plague and tyrannical governmental response, corporate corruption, the tobacco industry, eating disorders, religious fanaticism and racism. All these themes are woven into the narrative with sometimes breathtaking virtuosity and the characters are for the most part strong and individual. The story begins in the 1970s with six-year-old Billy, who lives with his dad and his dad's second wife, Madge, and her older son Ned, and elderly mother. Billy, who attends a Catholic kindergarten, refuses to accept the assertion by the overbearing nun in charge of his class that Santa Claus is an invented figure based on paganism. We learn that Billy actually sees Santa and converses with him - though before long, Santa is revealed to be another guise of a creature that introduces itself as the god Mercury. I wasn't quite sure if this was just one more persona it took on, although as it is fairly consistent throughout the book, maybe it actually is meant to be the god. Except this version of Mercury is rather malevolent. He transforms a 'poison stick' created by Billy's step-brother Ned from twisted twigs and a sparrow's skeleton, into a caduceus, Mercury's staff and traditional symbol of the medical profession, and imbues it with the ability to charge itself with power. This power can be dispensed for good, for example, to give Billy's family members good health. But there is a catch: to charge the caduceus Billy must dispense curses as well, and the power gained is in proportion to the awful nature of the curses. Being a six-year-old boy, Billy not only dishes out curses to people who have upset him in some way, he also bungles majorly on occasion, (view spoiler)[for example, condemning his step-brother to endure many years as a 'locked in' patient when Ned inadvertently receives one meant for boys who had beaten up Billy (hide spoiler)] . The book is divided into a number of parts which skip through the stages of Billy's life from the time of President Nixon's impeachment to an imagined 1999 (the book was published in 1991). The first four sections are an enjoyable page-turning read. In the first, Billy uses his newfound powers with tragic results. In the second, he is still living with his father and family and, undeterred by what he has already done, uses his powers for both good and for evil - with an outcome that although not directly due to his curses can be seen to stem from them (view spoiler)[when his father is killed in a traffic accident while rushing Billy to hospital after another boy injured him in revenge for what Billy has done (hide spoiler)] . In the third section, Billy is living with his mother and her second husband, Ben, plus Judith, Ben's daughter by his own first marriage. Judith is bright and engaging but suffers from anorexia. At her instigation, he begins calling himself William. This section focuses on Billy's 13th birthday and his birthday dinner to which an obnoxious spokesman for the tobacco industry, who indirectly funds Ben's work, invites himself, sparking a confrontation where Billy once again uses the caduceus with devastating results. William is now focused on becoming a doctor and is working hard at school to that end, with the intent of using the caduceus for finding cures for diseases, and curing Judith of anorexia. In part 4, he's older and is trying for accelerated entry to the program that will get him into university a few years early. He has become more adept at using the caduceus - (view spoiler)[ as shown when he deals ruthlessly with a teacher who stands in his way. When his mother becomes pregnant, he uses the caduceus to grant good health to the unborn child despite a hint from Mercury that it can only work within the genetic limits of the recipient, (hide spoiler)] with disastrous and tragic results. In part 5, the book takes an odd turn with the introduction of Madge's long lost first husband and the father of Ned, who does some very bizarre things. Many years have passed since the ending of part 4, and William is now married with sons of his own. Although he is doing well and the supposedly non-profit organisation he runs has produced a vaccine against AIDS, society in generally is crumbling under the pressure of a new and highly contagious disease for which his organisation is trying to find a cure. (view spoiler)[We gradually learn in retrospect that he has been using the caduceus, initially to come up with the AIDS vaccine but, in the last ten years, to sow the seeds for the new and devastating disease, for no real reason other than it presents a fantastic business opportunity. Despite this, William has a 'clear conscience' and has no problem at all with the nationwide devastation he has caused - he has been buying up property in a particular area since he was a young man, with the intent of turning it into a vast isolation 'camp' for the unfortunate victims of the disease he presumably was planning even then to unleash. (hide spoiler)] Ironically, it is in performing an unselfish action - and there is no explanation as to why someone so callous does so - he is hoist on his own petard (view spoiler)[when he tries to help a woman shot at a roadblock for trying to escape (she has the new disease) and is arrested and sent to a detention centre where people with the disease are imprisoned (hide spoiler)] . One of the issues some readers might have with this story is the huge number of characters including various second husbands and wives and step-children. Mostly I managed to keep them clear, helped by the strong characterisation, though this started to become more difficult in the final section. However, in my opinion there is a much greater flaw. Part 5 - comprising the book's final third - falls apart in a bloodbath unleashed by a newly introduced character, and the epilogue gives a spurious 'explanation' of that character's behaviour. It is almost as if the author wanted to kill off just about everyone in a unwarranted grand guignol finale, rather than work out the implications of everything that had gone before with the wider storylines of the plague etc. There is also the odd behaviour of Madge's first husband, which introduces further complications, and the dark humour surrounding his and Madge's fate. The main problem however is that in this section, after being the focus of the story, William is largely passive and is a victim at the mercy of others, eventually pushed off to the sidelines. This final section in my opinion constitutes a large flaw after the earlier absorbing story, which was heading for at least a 4-star rating, and therefore reduces the book's overall rating to 3-stars.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Graham P

    With 'The M.D.', Disch rips into the American family, religion, and science with a uniquely tenderhearted abandon. A play on 'The Monkey's Paw', this novel parodies the dangers of 'careful what you wish for.' A modern family drama, a comedy about happenstance, and in typical Disch fashion, an evocative dystopia. Nearly brilliant.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Eli Bishop

    Good in so many ways, and truly disturbing. It's not as stylishly written as The Businessman or as focused as The Priest - it's the most self-consciously Stephen King-like one in the series, and it could be read as just a nicely plotted deal-with-the-devil story. But on second reading, I got the same sense that John Clute did (in his fine foreword to the Minnesota U.P. edition), that Disch isn't just writing about one misguided kid who makes bad things happen, but a whole world riddled with fata Good in so many ways, and truly disturbing. It's not as stylishly written as The Businessman or as focused as The Priest - it's the most self-consciously Stephen King-like one in the series, and it could be read as just a nicely plotted deal-with-the-devil story. But on second reading, I got the same sense that John Clute did (in his fine foreword to the Minnesota U.P. edition), that Disch isn't just writing about one misguided kid who makes bad things happen, but a whole world riddled with fatal flaws; Billy isn't the first to go this way, it may be happening all the time (and that would explain a lot), and the supernatural evil isn't always the worst part. (Corruption in business and bureaucracy are vividly portrayed here; ironically, they didn't really figure in The Businessman.) Still, amid all the despair, Disch has some love for all of his characters - even when he's making very deadpan fun of them or putting them through hell - and his world isn't just dark but full of a kind of playful mystery, a feeling that even though both your body and your spirit may be vulnerable to all kinds of horrible things, they're both pretty amazing. (Edited to add: I put together some annotations I made during a recent reread here.)

  6. 5 out of 5

    Darin

    The M.D. offers an intriguing premise: what if the ancient Greek gods were real? In mythology they often actively intervened in the lives of mortals. In this novel, the god Mercury offers godlike powers to young Billy Michaels in exchange for his worship. Billy receives the caduceus, the ancient symbol of medicine consisting of twisted sticks topped with the desiccated carcass of a bird, and with it can cast spells to heal and protect anything. However, much like anything so powerful, there is a The M.D. offers an intriguing premise: what if the ancient Greek gods were real? In mythology they often actively intervened in the lives of mortals. In this novel, the god Mercury offers godlike powers to young Billy Michaels in exchange for his worship. Billy receives the caduceus, the ancient symbol of medicine consisting of twisted sticks topped with the desiccated carcass of a bird, and with it can cast spells to heal and protect anything. However, much like anything so powerful, there is a catch. In order to keep the caduceus charged with its magical power, Billy must perform an equal amount of damaging spells with it. Hence, for every person he saves, he must injure another. When he grows up to become a doctor, he truly plays god. Thomas Disch offers many prescient insights of the "future", including a degraded environment, catastrophic plagues, climate change and worldwide economic meltdown. Impressive, considering this novel was published in 1991 and divides its setting between the 1970s and 1999. What comes across loud and clear is Disch's dislike of religion, both the organized and fundamentalist flavors. Readers of the same persuasion may find themselves knowingly chuckling along with his sly observations. And the character of Judge perfectly illustrates blind, fundamentalist devotion to dogma and demagoguery. While the story itself is interesting and I was excited to find out what became of the characters, the pace is uneven, flagging in the middle before picking up again at the end. The mix of politics, science, medicine, religion and family drama (almost all of the adults are remarried divorcees which makes keeping tracks of all of the family combinations a bit tedious) overwhelms the plot at times. Recommended for fans of science-based horror, such as the novels of Robin Cook, though this is much more far-fetched and requires a great deal of suspension of disbelief.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Randolph

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Five stars. A truly literate horror novel that is really a wide swipe at Christianity and religion in every form, from Santa Claus to the Pope to televangelists. The novel starts in the 1950s with little Billy Michaels getting the power from Mercury (the Greek god) to presumably make things right. All he has to do is believe in the god and say the rhyme to get what he wants. The first problem is you can't trust a child any more than you can an adult to make the best choices. Billy isn't evil any Five stars. A truly literate horror novel that is really a wide swipe at Christianity and religion in every form, from Santa Claus to the Pope to televangelists. The novel starts in the 1950s with little Billy Michaels getting the power from Mercury (the Greek god) to presumably make things right. All he has to do is believe in the god and say the rhyme to get what he wants. The first problem is you can't trust a child any more than you can an adult to make the best choices. Billy isn't evil any more than any other child. The second problem is things don't always work out as you intended unless you are very careful about how you wish for things. Oh, and that magic wand known as a caduceus it needs to be balanced to work. It has to do bad to recharge the good battery in it. Anyway the novel stretches into the near future (or what the near future might be in 1991) with the now Dr. Billy Michaels curing AIDS (to get rich) but having to create another disease to balance things out, so to speak. But he's going to cure it eventually and make everything okay again. Right. Finally you realize that everyone is doomed. The universe will have its way no matter how you manipulate it. Disch does this in a sneaky way that makes you sympathize with each character even as he is telling you he is going to knock them off. Disch's god isn't an angry god just one that proves there isn't any god in the end. The book is as funny as it is horrid. The entire thing takes place in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul) Minnesota metropolitan area. Volume two of four of the Supernatural Minnesota series.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Traummachine

    This is subtitled "A Horror Story", and while that's accurate I wouldn't say this is horror in the sense most of us think when we hear the term. It's not scary, and few of the normal trappings of a horror story are present. Still, this is a tale of something horrible, even monstrous. The M.D. is the story of a young boy who is faced with a monstrous bargain: he can heal, but only in direct relation to the amount of life-force he uses to charge up his caduceus. I love the twisting of this medical This is subtitled "A Horror Story", and while that's accurate I wouldn't say this is horror in the sense most of us think when we hear the term. It's not scary, and few of the normal trappings of a horror story are present. Still, this is a tale of something horrible, even monstrous. The M.D. is the story of a young boy who is faced with a monstrous bargain: he can heal, but only in direct relation to the amount of life-force he uses to charge up his caduceus. I love the twisting of this medical symbol into a magic wand of sorts, especially one geared toward creating as much death and suffering as it does healing. Disch took the idea even further, and it gets very interesting, but no spoilers here. This is the second book in the Supernatural Minnesota quartet, and while the books don't form a series there is a definite theme and feel that ties them together. Like King, Disch writes deep, sympathetic characters, and he's not afraid to make you love a character and then have horrible things happen to them. This is his strength, along with a quiet, slow-burning way of writing that belies the dark nature of these tales. Good stuff.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    Where to begin? The beginning is great; creepy, well-written, draws you right into the family & all the characters. There is a lot of interesting foreshadowing. Then someone dies, book two begins & we're somewhere completely different. But it's okay, you get back into the rhythm of the story & persevere and it's pretty cool, although not as cool as before. And then someone dies, book three begins & we're somewhere completely different. And by that point you are tearing your hair Where to begin? The beginning is great; creepy, well-written, draws you right into the family & all the characters. There is a lot of interesting foreshadowing. Then someone dies, book two begins & we're somewhere completely different. But it's okay, you get back into the rhythm of the story & persevere and it's pretty cool, although not as cool as before. And then someone dies, book three begins & we're somewhere completely different. And by that point you are tearing your hair out because enough is enough and nothing makes any sense any more. Somehow William has started this plague just because he can and he has a wife from out of nowhere who gets literally half a page of play before she's murdered, and everyone just dies, sometimes for no reason (see Ben and Madge and Lance/Launce/whatever his name is) and he has this son who's psycho & none of the foreshadowed elements actually had anything to do with the story & I threw the book across the room & shouted "Fie!"

  10. 4 out of 5

    Maetta

    Billy Michaels is a precocious kid at 6. One day Sister Symphorosa tells the kids right before Christmas break that Santa Claus is not real. She is offended by the pagan connotations. Billy refuses to believe it as he has seen the real Santa. It turns out that that “real Santa” is something dangerous and powerful who manages to get a little kid wound up in his clutches for the rest of his life. This is one of those supremely scary books that gives one shivers yet one is compelled to see what hap Billy Michaels is a precocious kid at 6. One day Sister Symphorosa tells the kids right before Christmas break that Santa Claus is not real. She is offended by the pagan connotations. Billy refuses to believe it as he has seen the real Santa. It turns out that that “real Santa” is something dangerous and powerful who manages to get a little kid wound up in his clutches for the rest of his life. This is one of those supremely scary books that gives one shivers yet one is compelled to see what happens next.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Arin

    I liked it enough to finish it, but I was a little disappointed that it was not more of a horror. It felt like reality with a bit of the fantastical mixed in.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    "It is the oldest irony of the medical profession that doctors seem to profit from the misfortune of others." Though Tom Disch is a favorite of mine, I was a bit hesitant to delve into The M.D. because this late-career shift toward the horror genre seemed like a naked bid for Steven King-like success. But there's nothing watered down about this novel, which finds Disch at the height of his considerable powers. The dark humor, deft characterization, and intricate plotting of his best work are all "It is the oldest irony of the medical profession that doctors seem to profit from the misfortune of others." Though Tom Disch is a favorite of mine, I was a bit hesitant to delve into The M.D. because this late-career shift toward the horror genre seemed like a naked bid for Steven King-like success. But there's nothing watered down about this novel, which finds Disch at the height of his considerable powers. The dark humor, deft characterization, and intricate plotting of his best work are all present here. Like King's rustic Maine, Disch's Minnesotan stomping ground is a vivid setting, a wholesome-seeming place where evils both mundane and supernatural lurk. At heart this is a familiar sort of horror story, the kind that reminds us to be careful what we wish for. Young Billy Michaels has visions of a being with many faces who helps make Billy's wishes into reality. The consequences of these wishes, regardless of forethought or motive, tend to be dire. We follow him as a young man, as time and again he learns the wrong lesson from the results of these supernatural meddlings, then we skip forward nearly 20 years to see the world his wishes have made. Quibbles: I feel that we lose something in this 20 year gap. We don't learn until the end why Billy does some of the more ghastly things that he does, and the explanation underwhelms. Also, this last act strips Billy of his status as protagonist, and makes him a passive victim of circumstances like most of the other people in the book.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jason Bradley Thompson

    Visited by a mysterious supernatural being, who may or may not be the god Mercury, a child gains the magical power to heal... but every miraculous healing he performs must be balanced by causing injury or pain. It's a terribly tempting superpower, one that would be disastrous in the hands of an evil person, but luckily, our protagonist isn't evil... he's very idealistic and only wants to improve the world. And that's where the slow slide into doom begins. "The M.D." follows that child as he grows Visited by a mysterious supernatural being, who may or may not be the god Mercury, a child gains the magical power to heal... but every miraculous healing he performs must be balanced by causing injury or pain. It's a terribly tempting superpower, one that would be disastrous in the hands of an evil person, but luckily, our protagonist isn't evil... he's very idealistic and only wants to improve the world. And that's where the slow slide into doom begins. "The M.D." follows that child as he grows to a teenager and then an adult, trying to deal with his powers, sometimes spurning them, sometimes using them. This isn't a horror novel so much as an epic tragedy, a story spanning 30+ years where characters' flaws and vanities end up coming back to bite them in (supernaturally) horrible ways. A huge cast of characters, most of them very three-dimensional, almost no one is totally good or totally evil... which is great of course. It has a vaguely Stephen King-ish feeling, giving us peeks into the lives of lots of different people in small-town America, and featuring lots of disarming (but not distracting) humor. It's a lot more focused than a typical King novel, though, and ultimately much bleaker and more cynical. I don't want to summarize the plot too much except to say: several reviewers here say they didn't like the final act, but personally, I *loved* it. The book ends marvelously, and there are lines that chill me to this day.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jaksen

    Well-written; in fact this writer had such a grasp of 'how-to-write,' new writers should skim through just for ideas on the craft itself. Dialogue: crisp, clear, entertaining. Narration: succinct; linear. Use of vocab and grammar, right-on. Transitions and descriptions: not a word out of place. So why only three stars? The storytelling has issues, imo. There are simply too many characters and too many connections between them that the book becomes bogged-down and confusing. I finished the book; I Well-written; in fact this writer had such a grasp of 'how-to-write,' new writers should skim through just for ideas on the craft itself. Dialogue: crisp, clear, entertaining. Narration: succinct; linear. Use of vocab and grammar, right-on. Transitions and descriptions: not a word out of place. So why only three stars? The storytelling has issues, imo. There are simply too many characters and too many connections between them that the book becomes bogged-down and confusing. I finished the book; I wanted to know 'what happens,' but I often set it aside in a mind-boggling haze. Every character has: a spouse; a second spouse; a divorced or dead spouse. (It's up to the reader to keep this all clear.) Minor characters often return in a major way. There's really no such thing as a minor character, therefore, and even insignificant ones are given a back story, or pieces of one. I got to the point where I was saying: stepdad? Real dad? Mom's former boyfriend, or was it a husband? Or is this the mom or whatever? Step-relations abound. In other words, the book sort of sagged and sagged under its own weight until all the characters - collectively - sagged down the floor so much it simply broke and fell into the cellar. I wanted to like this book more. The first third is amazing, with such elegant, crisp, clear writing that I was immensely disappointed in the finished product.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Midas68

    Ok, Heres a Doozy for ya. I had not went the Disch route before and quickly found that this guy is pretty darn GOod. The book is Intelligent and Cruel. The main character is a boy who see's Santa Clause and is givin a wand stick(ITs Magic Baby) Well he soon grows up enough and does not believe in Santa any Longer. So Santa turns into something more believable. That Stick has some kinda Voodoo on it I tell ya. Only thing is, theres always that damn price you gotta pay for using it. I have to say the boy w Ok, Heres a Doozy for ya. I had not went the Disch route before and quickly found that this guy is pretty darn GOod. The book is Intelligent and Cruel. The main character is a boy who see's Santa Clause and is givin a wand stick(ITs Magic Baby) Well he soon grows up enough and does not believe in Santa any Longer. So Santa turns into something more believable. That Stick has some kinda Voodoo on it I tell ya. Only thing is, theres always that damn price you gotta pay for using it. I have to say the boy was a character you really cared and felt for. even though he kept innocently wrecking peoples lifes. his story went on so long you wondered when Disch would finally get to the Adult part of his tale. Unfortunately when it does. The story seems rushed and he really isn't someone you care about anymore. Freakin Dumbass with a Magic Stick. This story was still very well written for the most part and very Dark. Disch was obviously a very cynical man.(a recent suicide victim/May he Rest in Peace) 4 Hail Larrys outta 5

  16. 4 out of 5

    Zack

    Disch did a number of "Supernatural Minnesota" books that combine the presence of absurdly mundane mystical beings with very, very messed-up human beings. In this case, a young boy is given a mystical staff by Mercury, who appears as Santa, that allows him to heal any sickness. Unfortunately, he has to come up with a proportionate amount of hurt to inflict on someone else. I think they stole this for the show CARNIVALE. The book is quite funny, but the horrific stuff comes more from the everyday Disch did a number of "Supernatural Minnesota" books that combine the presence of absurdly mundane mystical beings with very, very messed-up human beings. In this case, a young boy is given a mystical staff by Mercury, who appears as Santa, that allows him to heal any sickness. Unfortunately, he has to come up with a proportionate amount of hurt to inflict on someone else. I think they stole this for the show CARNIVALE. The book is quite funny, but the horrific stuff comes more from the everyday people. A very, very bad thing happens to a baby. Someone then does a very, very bad thing TO that baby. A cure for alcoholism keeps a woman from drinking, but doesn't remove her desire to drink. There's a cure for AIDS. It does things that are worse than AIDS. The book doesn't quite hold together (the last section feels a mite overboard), but it's a fast read, and a tremendously entertaining one.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    This was really different from the usual books that I classify as "decent trash books". It definately had horror elements, but was really meandering and philosophical at times. I don't know. While I was reading this book, there were things I wanted to say. But Trump just won the election and I can't even. Maybe later. Later: Sometimes it would introduce really interesting characters and then they would be gone for about 100 pages. The parts set in the 70's and 80's were really good, but the 90's This was really different from the usual books that I classify as "decent trash books". It definately had horror elements, but was really meandering and philosophical at times. I don't know. While I was reading this book, there were things I wanted to say. But Trump just won the election and I can't even. Maybe later. Later: Sometimes it would introduce really interesting characters and then they would be gone for about 100 pages. The parts set in the 70's and 80's were really good, but the 90's bits suffered for a while. Then it picked up and had a batshit last few chapters. Maybe too cynical for a trash book, but it wasn't bad. He mentioned that blue-and-white glass ashtray three times and no one was bludgeoned with it.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Leif

    Eewwwww! I remember my father reading this when I was in grade school. He told me a few things about it...it terrified me. I have finally read it. Disturbing. Amazing. Awful. I can't NOT recommend it... One of the scariest ideas I have ever read or encountered. Obviously a variation on the "Monkey's Paw" idea, but this one...jeez Hideous and enticing. A true "page-turner" but is better written than most books that you would consider so. I give it three stars because I was still a little messed up whe Eewwwww! I remember my father reading this when I was in grade school. He told me a few things about it...it terrified me. I have finally read it. Disturbing. Amazing. Awful. I can't NOT recommend it... One of the scariest ideas I have ever read or encountered. Obviously a variation on the "Monkey's Paw" idea, but this one...jeez Hideous and enticing. A true "page-turner" but is better written than most books that you would consider so. I give it three stars because I was still a little messed up when I finished it. If you are able, read it. If you are not, don't worry...you have only missed one of the most fucked up books I have ever read.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sherry

    I think I'm as done as I'm ever going to get. I usually like Thomas Disch. This book has been sitting on my "to read" shelf for years. Its something I read hoping to love and didn't much even like. It didn't even have enough steam to carry me halfway through. If you know how much I love to read pretty much everything, you know how rare it is for me to not finish a book. I wish I could say I even wanted to at this point. Maybe I'll give it a shot in the summertime. Don't get discouraged by me tho I think I'm as done as I'm ever going to get. I usually like Thomas Disch. This book has been sitting on my "to read" shelf for years. Its something I read hoping to love and didn't much even like. It didn't even have enough steam to carry me halfway through. If you know how much I love to read pretty much everything, you know how rare it is for me to not finish a book. I wish I could say I even wanted to at this point. Maybe I'll give it a shot in the summertime. Don't get discouraged by me though, it might be your kind of story, and Mr. Disch is a hell of a good writer.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Bruce Reid

    Genuinely unnerving, not due to discrete horrific setpieces (though it has its share) but the sustained tone of sociopathic detachment. When a literalized evil treats the world as a petri dish for its disinterested, coolly scientific inquiries, anything can happen; here, it does, again and again. Less wickedly hilarious than some other Disch, but no less wicked. A recent reread confirmed this as on of the scariest books I know.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Donna Staub

    I enjoyed the book in the first half much more so than the second. It definitely did not go in the direction I thought it would, but I like the way it ended. The main character, Billy, definitely progressed into a horrible person as I thought he would. The weaving of all the characters together was well done yet I still felt like I didn't know them as well, or care about them as much as I have in other novels.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Eve

    I randomly found this book in a used bookstore and picked it up because of the rave endorsements. The plot summary makes the book sound a bit crazy and all over the place (a little boy visited by a vision of Santa who really turns out to be the god Mercury who wants his soul, etc. etc. etc.) but it works once you start reading. The first 3/4 of the book was great, with very dark humor and original ideas, but it totally fell apart in the last 100 or so pages, so only 3 stars.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jaime Contreras

    I struggled to finish this gross novel. Mr. Disch seems to believe that torture, maiming and stalking makes good thrills. This novel was disturbing to the point that I wonder if Mr. Disch has some serious psychological issues and problems. This was pure garbage and needs to be forgotten. This is an example of where being excessive is the problem.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Gerardo Lozano

    Me parece un buen libro, sólo no entendí el por qué se le aparece Mercurio a un niño y sobre todo el porqué ese niño podía ver cosas en la oscuridad, más allá de que le dieron el caduceo, y los saltos temporales entre libros, en lo particular, me sacaron de onda, mira que de repente William tenía esposa e hijos de la nada. Bueno pero me dejó con dudas, demasiadas.

  25. 4 out of 5

    ♥ Marlene♥

    Back in my Stephen King days I was always trying to find a writer like him. Well Thomas M. Disch is not like him but in his own way, just as good. It ha been so long since I've read this book (Read it in Dutch and still have a Dutch copy) but i do remember I loved this book. So If you like King, try this book. Very good blend mixing horror and fantasy.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Frank

    Great and engaging for the first half I was ready for a good follow up when the protagonist grew up. But then it just became ordinary and uninteresting. Didn't care for the ending just disjointed and silly. Still the first half is good enough to deserve the four stars.

  27. 5 out of 5

    George/Bev

    George: I read this a long time ago, but I remember it as being very good, unique and fast reading. I believe it is an excellent book that was overlooked by most people. It may be of most interest to guys.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Penny

    Just creepy enough to keep reading!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Paul Brown

    Nothing much ever happens.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tony

    Wildly imaginative, I found this fever-dream of a tale to be viscerally & profoundly disturbing. So naturally I read it twice. Can't say that about many other books.

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