Dr. Tom More, from Love in the Ruins (see this database), now middle-aged, returns to Feliciana after spending two years in prison for selling prescriptions of Dalmane and Desoxyn at a truckstop. On his return to his psychiatric practice, More observes that two of his former patients are acting strangely. In his own words: "In each there has occurred a sloughing away of the old terrors, worries, rages, a shedding of guilt like last year's snakeskin, and in its place is a mild fond vacancy, a species of unfocused animal good spirits." (21)

More observes that his wife Ellen and his children have also undergone some mysterious personality change. More, the scientist-physician, with the help of his cousin Dr. Lucy Lipscomb, launches a search for the cause of these and other observations. More and Lucy discover that John Van Dorn, head of the computer division of the nearby Grand Mer nuclear power plant and Dr. Bob Comeaux, director of the Quality-of-Life Division of the Federal Complex overseeing euthanasia programs, are involved in social engineering, releasing Heavy Sodium into the water supply to "improve" the social welfare.

Throughout the novel, Dr. Tom More returns several times to evaluate and talk with Father Rinaldo Smith, a parish priest who has exiled himself to a firetower overlooking the vast pine forest of Feliciana. More has been asked by Comeaux, who sits on the probationary board overseeing More's return to practice, to declare Father Smith crazy, so that Comeaux can take over Father Smith's hospice and put it to better use. The conversations between More and Father Smith contain the philosophic and moral themes that support the plot and action of the novel.


Perhaps Percy's most ambitious novel, his sixth and last, The Thanatos Syndrome revisits old themes found in his previous works, while giving perhaps his most rambunctious and outrageous commentary upon the post-modern predicament. The novel moves from existential themes found in his earlier novels to those subjects that most concerned him as a Catholic near the end of his life.

The protagonist, a wayfarer, confused and disoriented in a world bordering on catastrophe, begins a search, and comes to the values of commitment, relationships, ordinary life, and faith. Percy satirizes the do-gooders and grand social solutions of our age, and reminds readers that moral good emerges in the space between two people struggling and talking together. Dr. More, like Percy, "renders the unspeakable speakable," (17) and in so doing, offers the reader reflection upon themes of healing, moral good, and hope in the "age of thanatos." (86)


Farrar, Straus, Giroux

Place Published

New York



Page Count