|Purchase: Amazon | Chapters|
Start date: Sometime in 2005
Finished date: Sometime in 2005
Where From: Xmas gift in 2004
Why Read: I thought the movie was intriguing & I was interested in reading the book it was adapted from.
Summary: A psychiatrist is treating a patient named prot (rhymes with "goat," whose name is not capitalized) who steadfastly claims to be from the distant planet K-PAX (notice that it is all in caps), a utopia where money, crime, government, and even families do not exist, hence not complicating the simplicity of existence. The problem the good doc faces is that prot claims to be leaving soon...and claims to be taking one lucky person with him.
This novel reminds me of a popular line from Julius Caesar:
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”
A reviewer calls this debut novel from former DNA & cell division researcher Gene Brewer “a mixture of Starman, Oliver Sacks, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” which couldn’t describe it better. Maybe one more comparison could be tacked on: Darwin’s Origin of the Species. K-PAX is at once a philosophy, a theory of human origin, a mystery, a scientific/psychiatric case study, and a science fiction.
The book creates a debate about the existence of life on planets other than Earth and whether the universe is more expansive than we realize. prot’s home planet of K-PAX sounds utopian to Dr. Brewer, yet the perfect place for the other patients on his watch to live without being judged or treated as lower human beings because of their mental imbalances.
I became absorbed in the relationship between prot and Dr. Brewer, and how prot immediately gains the trust of other patients, who are equally fascinating: Howie, a bookish, busy “white rabbit” type (a kind of nervous disorder); Ernie, a hypochondriac and germophobe who is otherwise intelligent & well-meaning; Bess, a chronic depressive & formerly homeless mute; Mrs. Archer (nicknamed “The Dutchess”), an entitled, self-centred former socialite who suffered a nervous breakdown; “Whacky,” a sexually compulsive but otherwise normative man; Russell, an Old Testmant-spouting evangelist; Chuck, a cynical curmudgeon who accuses everyone of “stinking”; Maria, who has multiple personalities both male & female; and Ed, a psychopath.
I beg you to completely disregard the next two sequels of the book (I have not read book IV) as they are nowhere near as good as the first in the series and the third book is so terrible, I struggled to finish it. They can actually undo much of what is good from the first book as prot is warped into an iconic caricature, rendering his light-beaming abilities into a TV circus sideshow. The writing style is also different, making me wonder if Brewer changed editors.
I wrote lots of discussion questions in the book, which are geared towards high school or college students but may be useful for book clubs reading K-PAX as well, and are organized by the book’s “sessions” (in lieu of chapters) to be discussed at the end of each session.
a) Why was Dr. B. nervous at the end of the session yet prot was calm?
b) What could explain prot’s determination? Knowledge? Beliefs?
c) How do you account for Dr. B. and prot’s sudden judgments?
d) So far, what do you think of prot? Dr. B.? The book’s writing style?
a) Are Dr. B.’s findings justified? Why or why not?
b) Why would prot write a report?
c) Why does Dr. B. think prot is hateful?
d) Being “raised by…everyone” (p. 24) seems Buddhist in nature. Why does it seem unusual or strange to Dr. B.?
e) Define anarchy. List the pros & cons of this system in society.
f) List examples of simplicity on K-PAX that prot mentions on p. 30.
g) On p. 30, are Dr. B.’s initial findings enlightening or depressing?
h) Why do the other patients listen to & even respect prot?
i) What goal of Dr. B.’s is established?
a) What does a genius-level IQ entail? Why does this not apply to prot?
b) What could account for prot’s light sensitivity & UV detection?
c) Why does Dr. B. classify prot as a remarkable case, but finds Howie & Ernie unremarkable? What makes prot so unusual?
d) Conduct a nature vs. nurture debate. What are your findings? What human qualities fall under each?
a) Why do you think prot is in Ward 2? Should he be “promoted” or “demoted” to another ward?
b) What triggers seemingly “normal” people like Whacky or Howie to mental illness?
c) What makes prot so popular among the other patients? Is it a good idea for them to believe in him or to hope for being taken to K-PAX?
d) What is a savant? What is autism? Why could prot be considered as such? Do you think he is? Why or why not?
e) What does Dr. B.’s dream (on p. 56) mean?
f) Why do the other psychologists dismiss prot despite his calm, unassuming demeanor?
g) Why do you think Dr. B. perseveres with prot’s case? Is it legitimate?
a) What does prot love about Earth that K-PAX seems to lack?
b) What big changes have occurred that seem to disprove Dr. B.’s theories about prot?
c) What do prot’s reasons to leave tell us about him? What about his so-called “trip up north”?
d) What does the “bluebird of happiness” represent? What seems to be the main purpose of Howie’s tasks?
a) Think of jobs or chores that you find unpleasant. Do they eventually get done? Do you think about them often? What are their rewards?
b) Define utopia and dystopia. Which applies to Earth? To K-PAX? What are the pros & cons of life on Earth and on K-PAX?
c) Why did prot have an outburst? What caused it? Does it change your perception of him?
d) Does prot still belong on Ward 2? Why or why not?
e) Why does Chuck think he “stinks” most? Why not prot?
a) Why does science seem to embody all K-PAXians? Do you think it is top priority? Is it on Earth?
b) Up until now, did K-PAX seem utopian? Why or why not?
c) How do you account for prot’s concern about Earth’s use of light travel?
d) What do you think of prot’s hypothesis for the “fate of the universe”?
e) Does Howie’s second task seem extreme or impossible?
f) What does the patients’ calm demeanor about prot’s absence tell us about their relationship with him? What does prot offer them?
a) Why do you think Dr. B. did not take into account prot’s mention of leaving?
b) Predict the one person prot intends to “take back” with him & why.
c) Do you agree that fiction is an unnecessary art form? What about music & drawing? Why do you think prot appreciates those & not fiction?
d) Do you agree with prot’s assessment of love? Does he suggest that all positive feelings are the same?
e) Do you believe hypnosis actually works? Why or why not?
a) Explore the possibility of communicating with animals. How do we manage it now?
b) Why were Dr. B.’s kids afraid of confiding in him? What do you think prot told them to change their mind?
c) Do prot’s outbursts seem violent? What seems to set him off?
d) Why is the kitten more attracted to prot & Bess?
a) Reconsider your opinion of hypnosis. Has it changed since this session? Do you think prot’s session was legitimate?
b) Is multiple personality disorder an overused diagnosis? Do you agree with Dr. B.’s assessment?
c) What did the hypnosis session teach us about prot’s development on K-PAX?
d) Explore a history of Sweden and accomplishments of people listed as most like K-PAXians.
a) Why do you think prot “chose” Pete as an Earth companion? What are their similarities & differences?
b) In retrospect, was Howie’s task dangerous? What other measures could have “cured” Ernie?
c) What does Ernie’s description of near-death experience remind you of?
a) Examine psychopathic disorder & classic examples of it. How does Ed compare?
b) Why does Ed behave well with prot and won’t harm the cat, whereas before he threatened to harm it?
c) Do you think Howie is “cured”? Why or why not?
a) Do you think prot’s behaviour is more common among animals than humans?
b) Do you think prot’s accusations (on p. 169) are being directed solely at Dr. B.? Are his accusations exaggerated or legitimate claims?
c) Does this session prove that prot and Robert are the same person or two separate beings? Give reasons for both.
d) What do you think caused Robert’s limp body & silence?
a) Was this session successful? Why or why not?
b) In hindsight, what should Dr. B. have asked? Should he have been more or less aggressive?
a) Is Bess a hopeless case?
b) What did prot’s part in having Howie perform achieve?
a) Why does prot doubt Dr. B.’s actions and interest in his report?
b) Describe prot’s sense of humour and how he interprets that of others?
c) What are your conclusions about prot? Is he actually Robert Porter? What happened to Bess? Do you think prot will return? What do you suppose will happen with the other patients in the meantime—will they regress or progress?
Rank: (A+)- A must-read!