TITLE: The Thundering
YEAR PUBLISHED: 2015
AUTHOR: Megan Davidson
EDITOR: Kitty Kladstrup
PUBLISHER: Champlain Avenue Books
SUMMARY: What is “normal?” That question haunts psychologist Cathy Morgen when she takes on the case of a terrified teenager named Joseph. The year is 1961; the place is Portland, Oregon.
In the wee hours of morning, Cathy receives a distressing call from the director of Summerhaven Mental Hospital: They need her expertise. Over her husband’s angry protests, Cathy drives to the asylum, where she observes a bizarre sight: a kicking, neighing boy behaving exactly like a panicked wild horse. He isn’t just pretending. It seems that Joseph thinks he is a horse, or wants to be one. Cathy can’t imagine what has driven the boy to give up on humanity so completely that he is determined to become a member of another species.
Thus begins Cathy’s heart-and-mind-challenging quest to unravel the mystery of the talented, intelligent “horse boy” – and in doing so redeem herself for failing to save the life of a similar young patient years earlier. Many people are working against her methods, including an arrogant chief psychiatrist, a doctor who favors a host of barbaric “therapies,” and Cathy’s own spouse, Dan. There will be near escapes, brilliant insights, shocking confessions, uplifting conversions and unthinkable betrayals before Cathy can discover the true meaning of “normal” – and the key to healing Joseph’s broken psyche. And that victory will come at a great cost to her.
BACK STORY: I woke up one morning with the idea for this book in my mind. The central question was: What would happen if a human child acted like a horse? Which raises another question: What situation would have given rise to this predicament? The more I thought about these questions, the more the story grew and became a tale of a dedicated and insightful woman saving a teenage boy from a life of imprisonment and horror; in a way, she saves herself as well. Much online research concerning mental health treatments of the 1950s and ‘60s was needed to provide an authentic background for this story. In addition, my neighbor at the time was a psychologist, who was only too happy to fill me in on the gritty details of the plight of mental health care workers and patients during this period of American history. All in all, after many instances of stopping and restarting, it took me over four years to complete this novel.
WHY THE TITLE? I am very bad at naming my own books, so it took me years to settle on The Thundering as a title. Once I wrote the section in which Joseph hears about The Thundering, a rather serious game that he believes horses play with each other, I thought that it might work as a title. It is necessary to read almost half the book to discover the meaning of its name, and I thought that might be an incentive to readers. I should add that Joseph “plays the game” as well, meaning that he takes risks and excels, and eventually earns his freedom.
WHY READ IT? This novel is for those who love suspense fiction with a slightly disturbing plot and setting. Those interested in the recent history of mental health reform, and the people it affected, may also enjoy the book, as it examines new ways of thinking about people who are damaged and therefore different. In addition, there is a lot of material about life in the 1960s. It is also a paean to horses. I don’t pretend to be an original thinker, but I cannot name another novel with a plot very similar to this one. Readers who are looking for something a little dark and off kilter might go for this book.
The Thundering was a finalist in the Readers Favorite Book Awards 2016, in the General Fiction category.
“An exceptionally and deftly crafted novel from beginning to end, The Thundering is an inherently fascinating and thoroughly absorbing read. Very highly recommended.” — Midwest Book Review
“Megan Davidson’s The Thundering is an endearing tale of how one woman’s life can be completely altered and enriched through her contact with broken humanity. The conflict is multidimensional and masterfully developed, the characters compelling, and the plot complex…. Megan writes with mastery, confidence, and total control of the story…. The language is exquisitely beautiful.” — Romualdo Dzemo, for Readers Favorite
“This gripped me from the start, and it’s a story that will stay with me for a long time.” – Jackie Roche, reader/reviewer
“I loved this book. Loved it. I don’t know what else I could say to adequately describe how fantastic author Megan Davidson’s new work is. Her character development skills are second to none….This book is absolutely un-put-down-able. I read it from start to finish in one sitting. I simply had to know what happened next.” – Tracy A. Fischer, for Readers Favorite.
AUTHOR PROFILE: I am the author of 3 historical novels, all published by Kensington Publishing. I am also the co-author of two books on writing, and the editor of The Cross Burns Brightly, the autobiography of Mel Blount, former Pittsburgh Steeler and NFL Hall of Famer. I worked for many years as an editor at a small publishing company, and now teach classes in writing fiction at the DWC (Downtown Writers Center) in Syracuse, NY. Classes are at all levels, and include courses for adults as well as teens and preteens.
On a more personal level, I am a first generation American, with a Danish father and a Northern Irish mother. I was introduced to poetry, great literature, Hans Christian Andersen and frightening folktales at an early age, and I can hardly remember a time when I wasn’t either reading or trying to write a novel. (In the beginning, all were very bad novels, I might add.)
I obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature at Occidental College and began a career in copywriting. At age 36, realizing that I needed more training if I were actually to attain my dream and become a novelist, I took additional college-level classes and workshops. Eventually I earned my Masters of Arts Degree in English Writing from the University of Pittsburgh when I was eight months pregnant with my second son.”
AUTHOR COMMENTS: I attempted to combine two themes in The Thundering, in which a woman psychologist fights for recognition and respect during the darkest days of modern American mental health care.
In the novel, set in the 1950s and ‘60s, two horses provide a surrogate family for a motherless boy, Joseph, abandoned by his father in a remote area almost devoid of sympathetic humans. Having taken on the characteristics of horses, he finds himself in a mental institution, where the stated goal is to cure patients and reintroduce them to society, but the actual result is the creation of docile, medicated human husks. This unfortunately was the reality of most mental hospitals in America before President Kennedy started a movement for reform in the ‘60s. Few patients were able to recover from their cruel “therapeutic” treatments in these institutions. This particular time period was crucial to mental health care, as it encompassed the beginnings of professional psychology. Psychiatrists, championing the power of new psychotropic drugs, clashed with psychologists, who sought to improve the lives of patients through behavior modification. Joseph is able to recapture his “humanity” and remain undamaged by the devastating, yet widely accepted, treatments of his time because of the insight, care and determination of a dedicated psychologist, who has her own battles to wage.
I wanted the reader to see how, in 1961, women in general struggled to be seen as equals to men in terms of professionalism and intelligence – something many of us take for granted today. Dr. Cathy Morgen, also a wife and a mother, is caught up in the clash between her desire to help others and the forces of a society bent on locking her into a domestic stereotype. Her attempts to help Joseph recover a “normal” life outside the institution mirror her own struggles to overcome sexism at the hospital and in the home.
To read the entire long prologue of The Thundering, please visit my Amazon page by typing The Thundering by Megan Davidson into the search box. The prologue is also available on my website, MeganGraaeDavidson.com.
WHERE TO BUY THE BOOK, WHAT DOES IT COST?
The Thundering is available from Amazon Books in print or Kindle format. Printed versions cost about $11.00 each, while Kindle versions cost $3.99 each. Printed copies may be ordered from Barnes and Noble at $13.99 each.
Readers may also order the printed book directly from me at a cost of only $10.00; postage is free.
You may reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit my website at megangraaedavidson.com.