In Perlman's Ordeal Brooks Hansen entertains some truly esoteric guests. His book engages a hypnotist, Dr. August Perlman; a schizophrenic, Sylvie Blum; and an heiress, Helena Barrett. Set in London in 1906, this beguiling historical novel celebrates many surprising personalities. Though both Gustav Mahler and George Bernard Shaw make small appearances in this imaginative work, it's an invisible creature named Oona who really steals the show. With plotting as suspenseful as a murder mystery, Hansen's novel makes much better reading than your average cop-and-thug whodunit.
Told through Perlman's eyes, the story's focus is one extremely difficult week in this peculiar doctor's career. Just before he closes his clinic one night, an emergency case is rushed to his care. Perlman is a clinical hypnotist a psychologist of sorts who uses hypnotic suggestion to alleviate physical or psychological distress. His new patient, the aforementioned Sylvie Blum, suffers from dehydration. Her illness is the outward manifestation of inner turmoil. Sylvie's mind is at war with itself, her identity in crisis. After a day of convalescence at the clinic, Sylvie recovers her health but not her well-being. A new personality has won consciousness. She who once was Sylvie now calls herself Nina.
To complicate matters, the new identity, Nina, is in constant touch with Oona, an imaginary friend. Nina answers to Oona and Oona alone, leaving little room for anyone to communicate with Sylvie. Perlman's unenviable job is to break this psychological stranglehold and bring Sylvie out of this schizophrenic possession.
As if all this wasn't harrowing enough, Perlman's professional ordeal is further compromised by Helena Barrett. Introduced early in the novel as a possible love interest, Barrett's position in relation to Perlman turns tenuous when she begins to meddle in Nina's treatment.
All this leads to even stranger occurrences. Perlman and Barrett quiz Nina about Oona. In the process they uncover a strange myth about the lost civilization of Atlantis. Needless to say, this novel takes some very bold turns.
In the end it is a boldness of vision that saves this curious narrative. Hansen takes some big risks with this enigmatic cast, and his risks pay off.
Charles Wyrick is a writer and musician in Nashville.