A neurosurgeon looks forward to having a day off from work, but a promising Saturday brings only trouble. Henry Perowne is 48 years old and practices in London. Lately, he's concerned about the impending invasion of Iraq. Perowne's views on the situation have changed considerably after conversations with a patient who was tortured and imprisoned in Iraq for no apparent reason. A protest march against the looming war is held on Saturday.

On his way to play a game of squash that morning, Perowne is involved in a car accident on an otherwise deserted street. No one is injured and the two vehicles sustain only minor damage. The owner of the other car is a man in his twenties named Baxter. He is accompanied by two buddies. Perowne refuses Baxter's demand for cash to repair the car so Baxter punches the doctor. Perowne is moments away from a pummeling.

He notices that Baxter has a tremor and an inability to perform saccades. Perowne deduces that Baxter has Huntington's disease. The doctor capitalizes on the fortuitous diagnosis. He speculates that Baxter has kept the neurodegenerative disorder a secret from his sidekicks. When Perowne initiates a discussion about the illness, Baxter orders the cronies away so that he can speak privately to the doctor. The two men desert Baxter, and Perowne escapes in his car, hopeful he can still make the squash game.


Diagnosis is just one of many concepts integral to this short story which asks not only "What's wrong?" but additionally "Who (or what) is at fault?" The process of decision-making is paramount. The story considers how we gather information, process it, and most importantly determine its validity. What should we believe? How is the truth influenced?

Fear, aggression, and bullying are scrutinized on two levels: personal and global. There may be no better character than a physician to illustrate how crises happen all the time. The story suggests multiple morals: Good intentions have limits. Violence cannot always be avoided. There exists a tenuous balance between caution and the need for action. Ambivalence is potentially dangerous.

Although the author is not a physician, his characterization of the neurosurgeon is accurate and insightful. Dr. Perowne has learned that "clinical experience is, among all else, an abrasive, toughening process, bound to wear away at one's sensitivities" (124). He recognizes that "the sea of neural misery is wide and deep" (116) and therefore "his obligation is to be useful" (118).

Does the encounter between Perowne and Baxter qualify as a most unusual "doctor-patient relationship"? Miri Taleb, the patient of Perowne's and former professor of ancient history who was tortured in Iraq, provides chilling testimony about a country bound together by terror and fueled by fear. His grisly descriptions call to mind works by Franz Kafka including The Trial and In the Penal Colony (see this database).


The story is an excerpt from the author's novel, Saturday.

Primary Source

The New Yorker


Condé Nast

Place Published

New York


December 20 & 27, 2004

Page Count