This is a bold new collection of essays from Leslie Fiedler, one of America’s most brilliant literary and social critics. Wound together by the common thread of bioethics, they encompass such issues as abortion, the removal of life support (or as Fiedler says, “permitting the imperfect to die”), the role that doctors play in our society, the trend back to herbal medicine, and how we confront (or try not to confront) old age and Eros.
Fiedler speaks of bioethics not as a health-care professional, but as a passionate, well-informed amateur. A literary critic, he brings particular breadth to the topic, using it as a window through which to examine the mythology of abnormality in our society. His examples are culled from history, from personal experience, and from those works that have most penetrated our culture, our attitudes, even our collective subconscious: whether acknowledged literary classics (Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the works of Dickens and Shakespeare) or more popular entertainments, such and Ken Kesey’s “youth novel” One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest and the enormously successful television shows Marcus Welby, M.D. and E.R.
As in his earlier book, the bestselling Freaks, Fiedler’s concern here is with the Other, the individual who does not fit within society’s parameters of “normalcy” and so becomes the Outsider — even as that individual uncomfortably challenges many of our cherished assumptions about our capacities for civilization and tolerance. Frequently controversial, at times infuriating, these essays will anger parties on all sides of these debates. But they will also appeal to anyone who appreciates the unorthodox insights of an inquisitive and voracious mind.