The Sum of His Syndromes

“Maybe between the two of us we can trick me into being honest with you.” A collage of notes written in a sixth-floor men’s room, The Sum of His Syndromes is the story of a slightly disturbed young man who has found himself at a personal and professional crossroads. There is a job he doesn’t want, a girl he does, and a friend who is writing a book. If it weren’t for the wise counsel of his therapist, the anomalous Dr. C, who knows what might have happened.

Oregon Book Award Finalist

“Enigmatic…Addictive…With passages that are so well turned they can be called lyrical—and others that are laugh out loud funny.”  A.M. Homes

 "Syndromes is funny; it's insightful; it's gonzo"   Willamette Week




Excerpt from The Sum of His Syndromes


It’s 8:45 a.m. and I have locked myself in the third stall of the sixth-floor men’s room—the one nearest the wall. I am sitting exactly where you would expect me to be sitting, scribbling away in a buff-colored steno pad stolen specifically for the occasion. I’ve been spending more and more time in here lately because I can’t keep spending it out there. Out there it’s telephones and computers and all sorts of people with problems, people who want to interrupt what you are doing (or not doing), people who want to talk to you, people who want to tell you things you’re not interested in hearing. People like Robert Bray, for example, who knows everything there is to know about the downtown condo market, and Lucy McAllister, who seems to think your life would be improved if you knew more guys named Cooter.


Had an interesting session with Dr. Costa yesterday. He wanted to focus on the negative feelings I seem to have toward Mrs. Dorton, the evil manageress of my apartment building. I told him my negative feelings for her were mostly in response to her negative feelings toward me, but, as always, he seems reluctant to accept what I am telling him as true.

He has an interesting theory. He thinks I have focused my attention on her as a way of not focusing it on myself, that my unhappiness with my unhappiness is driving me to see her as some sort of persecutor when, in fact, it’s just me trying to avoid admitting things to myself—namely, that I have an inclination to romanticize what (for want of a less loaded word) we have tentatively agreed to call my “depression” and that this inclination is predicated on a quaint eighteenth-century belief in the sanctity of a certain sort of suffering.

A wiry, wedge-headed guy in his middle 40s, Dr. C looks like he could be, is, or has been at one time, a runner. He is the third guy I’ve seen in the last three years. Calm, quiet, quick to write prescriptions—I can’t help feeling he is dangerous.


Dean Freeze was just in here working on his teeth. He was flossing, brushing, mouth-washing. There is a scrupulousness about him that is sort of mesmerizing. He never seems to have a hair out of place. It just doesn’t seem possible that a person could be that clean and spotless.


There is a rumor floating around that Cathy Manning’s daughter attacked a neighbor kid with a bat.


I have a strong feeling that Kate doesn’t really want to meet Peter. She has heard things about him—about the extremity of his personality—and he doesn’t sound to her like someone she would like very much, which worries her. It worries her because she knows how much I like him, and she has no idea what her not liking him might mean for us. We were cubicle mates, Peter and I, for three years—until he inherited some walking-away money from a dying grandmother.

I think Kate is also worried about the way she might not like Peter. She is not the sort of person who would think more of someone because of someone they knew, but she is the sort who might think less. At this point in our relationship she seems to want to think as much of me as she can, and she is afraid Peter might interfere with this. That I’m the sort of person who would know someone like him might end up being a hurdle too high to get over. It would mean something—exactly what, at this moment anyway, is a mystery.


I’m not as interested as I should be in wanting to make an impression on Dr. C. So far he doesn’t seem to have noticed this because he’s been busy trying to make an impression on me. He wants me to find him even-tempered and caring. Once I do that, we can begin our work in earnest.


            Paul Burkholder is just back from his vacation. He spent a month walking across Montana. He’s been regaling us with stories that are basically about what a brave and adventurous guy he is. Everyone he ran into along the way seems to have been amazed that he was doing what he was doing.


Excerpt from a conversation between Bruce Howland and Ryan Brown:

“It doesn’t seem like I’m laughing as much as I used to. It’s not like I’m getting serious; I just don’t seem to know what’s funny anymore.”

“You might try looking at your tie.”