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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.
stopped to inquire, “What’s wrong?” “I’m nervous.” “About what?” “I’m going for it. Five miles, thirty minutes, today’s the day.” I tried to sound more Clint Eastwood than John Wayne. “I understand.” He didn’t. But he filled Coach Wyler in on the time trial. At three o’clock, my brother unstrapped his chronograph and buckled it onto my wrist. The whole track team, JV and varsity, were assembled behind the field house. They all knew of the challenge now. Coach Wyler drew out the course I
the photograph of Willy was a relief. It was taken last year. Willy’s hair was almost as gray as his own. He’s sitting somewhere— hotel? apartment? café?—pointing something out in the newspaper to his friend Henry. It makes them both smile, not so much because it’s funny but because they see it the same way. Henry is a neurologist. Friedrich likes him, and would have liked him even if he were not his son’s lover, but likes him more because of it. Friedrich opened the drawer on his wife’s side of
listened to her, took in what she wanted to share with him as he had never done before, or in fact, would ever be able to again for the rest of their marriage. Afterward, they lay in bed and he told her, “This is going to change everything.” Friedrich had no idea that the reason his coffee had tasted so bitter that morning was due to the fact that Dr. Winton had sweetened it with The Way Home without telling him. As planned, Dr. Friedrich and Dr. Winton met in the lab at four to type up their
headshrinker”) made her odd. Having a father who still drove around town in a broken-down ambulance instead of a car meant he was an embarrassment. And a mother who persisted in buying secondhand clothes and washed her daughter’s hair in dishwater detergent added humiliation to her stew. Parrots that shit on her friends whenever they came over was one more awkwardness than she could bear. Willy, who could now not only say “urinate” but impress his dad by peeing standing up, only paid attention
us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches—” “They were ham and cheese,” Willy corrected her. “Okay, ham and cheese sandwiches, and he sees a mouse running along the counter. And Dad takes the knife and throws it.” Willy, smiling, nodded “yes” to the story. “Amazing shot. Stabs it from like three feet away.” Lucy continued. “And then he picks it up and holds it up in the air. Its legs are still wiggling. And then he opens the refrigerator door . . .”—Lucy leaned close to tell this part of the