The Ninth Configuration Book Review
Written by William Peter Blatty
1978, 176 pages, Fiction
Book released on April 29th, 2014
Deep within an unnamed woods in the Pacific Northwest, a former private manor has been converted into a psychiatric facility for military personnel, home to twenty-seven patients and a skeleton crew of medical staff. In a bizarre twist, all of the soldiers seeking treatment are decorated officers. Their behavior is flagged suspicious because they all seem to have developed their questionable behavior suddenly and without prior incident. All of the patients display extreme levels of erratic behavior and are frequently comical in their interractions with the staff. Colonel Vincent Kane is newly assigned to the hospital in order to determine if the men are merely faking their symptoms or are truly in need of psychiatric care.
Captain Billy Cutshaw, a former astronaut who refused to go into space following a pre-launch mental breakdown, has become the de facto leader of the patients. Kane opts to observe their interactions before setting his own curriculum and begins philosophical discussions with Cutshaw. The astronaut seeks reassurance in the inherent goodness in mankind. After studying the men and their relationship with each other, Kane believes that if he can cure Cutshaw, the effect will cause similar results in the others. There is however a deeper psychiatric experiment underway at this facility, the unorthodox nature of which may permanently challenge the standard doctor/ patient relationship.
Author William Peter Blatty has suggested this book is the true sequel to The Exorcist, followed by Legion to close out the trilogy. While the stories are different on the surface, they share a set of themes and explore similar ideas regarding God and the nature of man. The Ninth Configuration (1978) emerged from the same outline that spawned Blatty's novel Twinkle, Twinkle Killer Kane (1966), but according to the author's note at the beginning of this book, his earlier version was a bit sprawling. Kane is indeed verbose and this streamlined version is a much more enjoyable read. It has a better flow and is more focused on the characters than the over-written language of its predecessor.
A theological black comedy set in contemporary America, this is at its center a Passion Play told through the eyes of a military psychiatrist. Kane is the rational voice in a raging sea of chaos, the last hope of salvation for an army of misfits. His willingness to sacrifice himself – figuratively and literally – for these strangers in order to restore their sanity is the ultimate selfless act to prove there is good in the world. Blatty poses a series of difficult philosophical questions through the acerbic dry wit of his characters. Their remarks are frequently humorous and sardonic yet ironically fatalistic.The author introduces big ideas about the existence of God and the importance of a higher power in the lives of everyday man through a series of pensive discussions between Kane and Cutshaw. The lessons learned at the end of the tale are hard-won and haunting. Blatty succeeds in creating another thoughtful reflection on good and evil and how tightly the two co-exist.