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An epic novel about family secrets and the consequences of ambition
William Friedrich, an ambitious professor of psychology at Yale in 1952, has stumbled upon a drug that promises happiness—and that can make him a famous man. When his experiment goes awry, and a research subject commits murder, the consequences will haunt him and his family forever.
Pharmakon is an epic novel, an invocation of the quest for bliss, for love, for family, and all of the betrayals that follow. We follow the Friedrichs from the well-ordered suburban life of postwar America through the chaos and freedom of the counterculture, into the drug-fueled, media-crazed eighties and beyond. In William Friedrich, Wittenborn has defined the archetypal American patriarch: a miracle worker and source of strength to everyone except those he loves the most. Pharmakon is also a layered, thoughtful search behind the veil of psychopharmacology as we know it today—a tale not only of the consequences of research, but also of the complex personalities, appetites, and struggles that created it.
Honest, insightful, and ruefully funny, Pharmakon captures formative moments of the twentieth century, the quirks of an American family, and will enthrall fans of the novels of John Irving.
out of his pocket, he checked his watch, jotted down the time, and made his initial observations. The first hallucinations he was aware of appeared around 5:00. Or was that reflection he saw in the store window a hallucination? Had that tailback really been arrested for sodomy in Greenwich Village? He’d call him up, see how he was doing, just to make sure. Friedrich walked toward the shrieking, feathered apparitions with a smile on his face. In fact, he was grinning from ear to ear. This is why,
the headmaster who had given me a break and not expelled me for the cherry bomb incident, and, most of all, it was an act of aggression toward, and showed profound disrespect for, myself. I told her, “You’re missing the point. I wanted to get caught.” “Did you think you needed to be punished?” “No. I just wanted to start fresh. Confess.” “Did you make any attempt to tell your father the truth about your drug problems?” “Once.” “What happened?” I didn’t mind her sitting in judgment of me,
had been bitten by one at age eleven at the Illinois State Fair in Urbana? Could it have something to do with the fact that parrots talk without understanding a word of what they are saying? Or was it simply that when his henna-haired mother reversed the charges on her late-night long-distance phone calls, warning him of train wrecks, car crashes, and fires that had not yet occurred, her voice had the same shrill, slightly hysterical shriek as that macaw who kept calling out, “Here they come,
sorry. I just wanted to see what was inside.” “It says what’s inside right on the plastic wrapper.” “Yeah, but I wanted to see for myself.” “Well, you have, and that will be $8.54.” Will Friedrich was in the bar of the faculty club now, self-medicating with a beer, trying to think what his mother called “pleasant thoughts,” i.e., trying to cheer himself up before he boarded the streetcar home. He felt contagious. Self-absorbed but not selfish, he did not want to infect his family with his
un-Christian. If a Jew had written this book, the hen would at least have had the decency to offer to sell the pig some bread.” “Why do you talk like an anti-Semite?” Nora didn’t find it funny. “I’m anti-everything.” Lazlo thought that was very funny. Friedrich laughed, too. “Where are the girls?” “At Jenses’.” “Lazlo gave us a ride in his new car.” That was Willy. Lazlo put his pants on in front of them. Lazlo made anything seem natural. “New suit, too. Very expensive. Silk mohair. Had to