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My Lobotomy by Howard Dully

By Amanda | Books | June 1, 2009 |

By Amanda | Books | June 1, 2009 |

I won’t be giving anything away if I write the back cover description of My Lobotomy by Howard Dully and Charles Fleming, since the title pretty much says it all:

My name is Howard Dully. In 1960, when I was twelve years old, I was given a lobotomy. My stepmother arranged it. My father agreed to it. Dr. Walter Freeman, the man who invented the “ice pick” lobotomy, performed it. My family paid the hospital $200. And I never understood why. I wasn’t a violent kid. I had never hurt anyone. I wasn’t failing out of school. Was there something I had done that was so horrible I deserved a lobotomy? I asked myself that question for more than forty years. Then, when I turned fifty-four, I went looking for the answer.

And there you have it. Dully was 12 years old when he got a transorbital lobotomy — which means that Dr. Freeman stuck some sharp pointy objects through Dully’s eye sockets, squigged ‘em around a little, and called it good. And he’s spent the rest of his life dealing with the effects. This book was horrifying. Not graphic — not really. There were a few descriptions I could have done without, and a real effed-up picture. No, it was horrifying because there really wasn’t any reason for Dully to have a lobotomy. My guess is, he was bright but bored, sensitive, and probably had ADHD. His stepmother found it hard to control him, and so she found a way for him to be out of the house: the lobotomy. ‘Cause after that, he pretty much never lived in her house again — he was in asylums, halfway houses, or jail. The reader is left to wonder if the stepmother wanted him out so bad that she was willing to see him die, which happened with a lot of lobotomy patients. And then poor Howard never really got off the ground in life. Things were rough for him — asylums, jail time, bad relationships, and an overall inability to take care of himself.

As Howard got older and life got a little easier (with a wife and kids and a steady job he liked), he started to wonder more about the lobotomy, and why it happened; one thing led to another, and he was contacted by the fine folks at NPR for the “Sound Portraits” series. He was able to look at records from before his lobotomy, including notes on all the conversations his stepmother had with Dr. Freeman. And he finally spoke with his father about his role in the whole thing. This section was probably the most devastating in the entire book. His father accepted no blame, and I just wanted to reach through the pages and strangle him.

So: the writing was up and down. There were some passages that were really well written and compelling. But then there were some parts that were, well, choppy (no lobotomy pun intended). They just didn’t jive with the rest of the book. But it was a quick read, and I had a hard time putting it down. Good for a short trip, or a solid day off.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Amanda’s reviews, check out her blog, Naive Helga

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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