Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Magnificent ObsessionMagnificent Obsession by Lloyd C. Douglas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lloyd Cassel Douglas, 1877-1951, was a minister before he was an author. MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION, was his first book written and published after he retired from the pulpit around 1928. How appropriate then that this book's main subject centers around his old boss, the Galilean from Nazareth. His novels are of a didactic tone purposed for developing strong moral character. His writing is
of the very formal literary style of the day, and tilt toward the upper-class vernacular of that era. This is a classic novel that was first published in 1929.

          The protagonist is Robert Merrick (Bobby), a good for nothing carousing playboy that drinks too much, and chases women. His parents inherent money led to their irresponsible, self-indulgent attitudes, and those bad traits carried over into their son’s life; he could always buy his way out of any bad situation.
          The money came from his grandfather, Nicholas J. Merrick, who was the founder of Axiom Motor Corporation, and still a large stockholder of that company. Nic Merrick worked hard for the wealth his family took for granted. His family was a disappointment to him. That is until Bobby Merrick’s life was changed by an unfortunate chain of events.
          Bobby lived with his grandfather at Windymere, a retreat by a lake out in the country. Bobby’s father, Clif, had died when he was young, and his self-absorbed mother, Maxine, abandoned him to go live in Europe, leaving him to live with his grandfather Nic. His neighbor was a prominent brain surgeon from Detroit, Dr. Wayne Hudson, who had recently married in hopes of helping his daughter, and moved his family to his newly constructed retreat, Flintridge, across the lake from Windymere.
          Dr. Hudson was the most important brain surgeon in the country, but his career was being threatened by what his close colleges that worked with him at Brightwood Hospital in Detroit called “little idiosyncrasies”, and his not so close colleges called “clean-cut psychoses”. All colleges thought Dr. Hudson’s extreme hard work and dedication, along with concern about his out of control daughter, Joyce, was killing his health, mental and physical. It was decided that Dr. Pyle, who idolized the prominent brain surgeon, would talk to the good Dr. and convince him to take his daughter and go on a long vacation.
          Dr. Hudson completely turned the tables on Dr. Pyle when he finally got the gumption to approach the good Dr. about taking a vacation. Before Dr. Pyle could say a word Dr. Hudson informed him that he was going to marry his daughter’s college classmate, Helen Brent, because Miss Brent had such a positive effect on his daughter. Joyce was a perfect lady and good student when in the presence of Helen. Telling Dr. Pyle that it sounds like one of those “January and June” weddings; that he was not fooling himself, and it was to be a marriage on behalf of his daughter. A “mariage de convenance”. That he was building his country retreat, Flintridge, and retiring there for the sake of his family. Dr. Pyle was amazed, as were all his associates at Brightwood Hospital.
          One of Dr. Hudson’s ‘idiosyncrasies’ was living without fear; must not fear anything. He feared swimming, but he swam.
“Still swim?”
“Enjoy it?”
“Well - it’s good for me.”
“Keeps your weight down?”
“Perhaps. But, in any event, it’s good for me.”
          The visitor then asked about a “strange piece of furniture” that was sitting there, his super-type inhalator. Dr. Hudson briefly explained what it was, and that it was to be used if anyone were to fall in the deep water; it would be of great use.
          Then the unfortunate chain of events that spurred Bobby Merrick to reevaluate his life, to commit his life to doing good for others, happened. Bobby’s boat had somehow exploded and he was blown off the boat, and would have died except for the aid of Dr. Hudson’s super-type inhalator. Unfortunately, on the other side of the lake, Dr. Hudson died from drowning because he didn’t have his inhalator there to save his life, because it had been taken to the other side of the lake to help save Bobby’s life.
          The village Dr. attending to Bobby shipped him off to Brightwood Hospital, famous for its brain surgery, not knowing that Dr. Hudson wouldn’t be there. When Merrick revived he was tortured by the ill-treatment, or rather hateful attitude of the staff there. He tried to make it right by throwing his money at the problem, not knowing that everyone there blamed him for the death of their beloved Dr. Hudson. That is until Nancy Ashford, the most intimate of Dr. Hudson’s associates, kindly filled him in. Once Merrick transformed his life to one of doing good, and committed his life to the service of mankind, Mrs. Ashford became his biggest ally.
          By chance he came to the aid of Mrs. Helen Hudson, still in mourning from her husband's passing, when her car got stuck in a ditch near Windymere, where Merrick again went to live with his grandfather after his recovery from the hospital. He didn’t reveal who he was for fear she hated him so. It was love at first sight. This impossible love story carries throughout the story, and ends on the last pages in a quite dramatic and satisfying fashion.
          Bobby became Dr. Merrick, brain surgeon, and inventor of a surgical tool that catheterized vital veins during the surgical process. Loved and hoorayed by all just as Dr. Hudson had been. Since gaining Mrs. Ashford’s approval and admiration, she entrusted ‘a little coded book’ of Dr. Hudson’s to Dr. Merrick. Decoding this little book solidified Dr Merrick’s religious convictions, which until his accident were nil. He concluded that religion wasn’t a thing out there. It is as certain as the physical sciences used in materia medica. Dr. Hudson’s little coded book described a sort of personality transference. Help people by doing good deeds in an effort to help them reclaim their own lives. And, most importantly, keep it to yourself. That by doing so your own life would be blessed with all the good your heart desires. To quote Dr. Merrick, if only people “...realized how human personality can be made just as receptive to the power of our Major Personality.” Just as surely as electricity can be transferred in physical science. Beautiful premise, beautiful story.
          It is sacrilegious to be allowed to give this classical literature only five stars.

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