Review: “The Patient” by Jasper DeWitt

the patient by jasper dewitt book cover from goodreads, background photo from unsplash by R_ R
Original background cover photo credit: R_ R on Unsplash

I write this because, as of now, I am not sure if I am privy to a terrible secret or if I myself am insane.

The Patient, Chapter 1 opening

Author: Jasper DeWitt 
Publication Date: July 7th 2020
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Genre: Horror / Thriller
Find it on: Goodreads

Synopsis

The Silent Patient by way of Stephen King: Parker, a young, overconfident psychiatrist new to his job at a mental asylum, miscalculates catastrophically when he undertakes curing a mysterious and profoundly dangerous patient.

In a series of online posts, Parker H., a young psychiatrist, chronicles the harrowing account of his time working at a dreary mental hospital in New England. Through this internet message board, Parker hopes to communicate with the world his effort to cure one bewildering patient.

We learn, as Parker did on his first day at the hospital, of the facility’s most difficult, profoundly dangerous case—a forty-year-old man who was originally admitted to the hospital at age six. This patient has no known diagnosis. His symptoms seem to evolve over time. Every person who has attempted to treat him has been driven to madness or suicide.

Desperate and fearful, the hospital’s directors keep him strictly confined and allow minimal contact with staff for their own safety, convinced that releasing him would unleash catastrophe on the outside world. Parker, brilliant and overconfident, takes it upon himself to discover what ails this mystery patient and finally cure him. But from his first encounter with the mystery patient, things spiral out of control, and, facing a possibility beyond his wildest imaginings, Parker is forced to question everything he thought he knew.

Fans of Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes and Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World will be riveted by Jasper DeWitt’s astonishing debut.

From Goodreads

Review

Book Content Warnings: paranoid schizophrenia, institutionalization, depression, drug addiction, alcoholism, night terrors, self-harm, sexual abuse, rape, PTSD, assault, suicide, animal abuse, domestic abuse

The Patient by Jasper DeWitt is a disturbing horror-thriller that brings readers into the depths of a terrorized Connecticut state asylum. Framed in first-person POV as a series of confessional message board posts by an anonymous young psychiatrist, readers are drawn into the narrator’s dramatic account the dark events that transpire in the facility. I picked up this book expecting a fun psychological thriller featuring a deranged asylum patient (perhaps a la The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides?), but this book evoked so much more visceral fear than I anticipated. Don’t underestimate its short length and cover design. This story will haunt your dreams long after it’s done.

Perhaps one reason why this story was so unusually effective is its framing. The book opens by saying this is a ‘true’ story posted online on MDConfesssions.com which has now been removed and is therefore unverifiable. This sets the stage for what could easily be read as a plausible tell-all, especially in our age where anonymous online whistleblowing is not uncommon. I didn’t give this framing much thought at the time. As the story darkened, however, it seemed to have manipulated my brain into perceiving the story as ‘closer’ or more real than I expected. Somehow stylizing the story using message board posts added some implicit sincerity and credibility to the narrator’s tale. Overall I found the story’s presentation proved very effective.

But understand this, Parker. If you want to hear all the details, then you’ll start by accepting this: There is no curing that horror downstairs. There is only containing him.

The Patient, p 125

Our online narrator is a young, confident psychiatrist who’s recently been hired at the institution in which this story is set. Quickly he learns there’s a mysterious patient kept securely under lock and key who’s restricted from any contact except for their single caretaker. The narrator endeavors to learn more about this patient, but once he does it uncloaks a horror he wishes he’d have let lie. Psychiatrists have difficulty pinning down a diagnosis, and for some reason there are a number of bizarre deaths associated with the patient, though not directly of his doing. Readers wonder if it’s the patient’s influence or whether events are being totally and unfairly misattributed to the poor patient. After some incredible twists the story wraps up with a haunting end.

This would be a perfect quick spooky read on a chilly fall night. I’d recommend this to anyone who finds an asylum setting intriguing and is ready for a dark and creepy read. There’s more to this one than meets the eye.

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