Monday, November 12, 2007

MY LOBOTOMY A MemoirBy Howard Dully and Charles Fleming Crown. 272 pp. $24.95

Howard Dully's early life was a catalogue of horrors. His mother died when he was 5, and his father married Lou, a woman with sons of her own. What followed is reminiscent of those gruesome newspaper articles in which one child is singled out to endure all of a family's abuse. Dully didn't die of the neglect he suffered or the beatings he received, but he lost all sense of himself as a worthwhile being. When he was 12, with little protest from his father, Lou arranged to have him lobotomized by the notorious Dr. Walter Freeman, who pierced the back of his eye sockets with an instrument like an ice pick, and then twisted it into his brain.

Mercifully, Dully wasn't entirely incapacitated, but he drifted through adolescence, spent time in institutions and on the streets, and was for decades unable to find a permanent job. When he finally found a loving wife and work as a bus driver, he began researching his own story. He gained access to Freeman's notes, talked to his brothers and attempted to question his father (Lou had died by then). In 2005, he was the subject of a National Public Radio program on lobotomy.

Dully's prose is clear, and his story compelling. You can't help admiring his ability to achieve a measure of peace and understanding, and even more the generosity of spirit that allowed him to forgive not only the father who betrayed him but also the unspeakable Lou. ¿

Juliet Wittman teaches writing at the University of Colorado and is the theater critic for Westword, a Denver weekly.

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