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Book Reviews   |    
The Mystery of Breathing
Reviewed by Caroline Fisher, M.D., Ph.D.
Psychiatric Services 2004; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.55.12.1453-a
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by Perri Klass; Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004, 344 pages, $24

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This is a creepy novel. It's the engrossing kind of book you read fast and then keep thinking about later. It is the story of Dr. Maggie Claymore, a confident academic neonatologist who becomes the target of a hate-mail campaign. Klass follows Maggie's dawning horror as she sees her career shaken to its very foundation by someone obviously close to her yet unknown. Maggie's self-confidence is replaced first by mistrust of others and then by self-doubt, as she comes to partly believe the twisted messages. Klass describes the thoughts of the different people around Maggie and their response to her and the situation as it emerges, until gradually the reader finds herself in the mind of the perpetrator. There, Klass convincingly captures the complex and incongruous moral distortions of a sociopath.

The creepiest part, however, is not the sociopath, but the subtle revelation of the other characters' more mundane moral distortions and their contribution to the tragedy that unfolds. Klass' characters are disturbingly believable. We recognize in them our peers and colleagues. Like Maggie, we find ourselves mistrustful of the people close to us and trying hard not to inspect our own motivations too closely.

All in all, this a good story, well told. Klass' writing is fluent and engrossing, her characters are compelling, and her style is easy. I recommend this book, but not to be read right before a faculty retreat.

Dr. Fisher is affiliated with the department of psychiatry of UMass Memorial Health Care in Worcester, Massachusetts.

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