Shocking Medicine

Garcia’s Heart, Liam Durcan, 2007

In the 1950′s American Dr. Ewen Cameron conducted extreme experiments at McGill University in Montreal on human subjects using LSD, electroshock, and sensory deprivation. The CIA provided funding for these experiments ostensibly to study Soviet and Chinese brainwashing techniques but then used the experiments to develop methods of “interrogation” which have been used extensively by the CIA to this day. The CIA also trained torturers throughout Latin America with atrocities repeatedly committed in Chile, Argentina, and Central America. These McGill experiments formed the starting point for Naomi Kline’s Shock Doctrine. Cameron inspired torture techniques also appear repeatedly in Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes history of the CIA. It can be noted that the McGill experiments were taking place at the same time Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, and other colleagues and students were experimenting with hallucinogens at Harvard University with entirely different objectives in mind. That they were fired and dropped out as Cameron never was is not surprising.

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Now comes a first novel from Montreal neurologist and McGill Professor Dr. Liam Durcan dealing with the Crimes Against Humanity Hague Trial of a Honduras doctor accused of torturing political prisoners during the 80′s Sandinista Reagan CIA Contra era in Central America. The leading character, Patrick, is a neurologist entrepreneur who has founded a company to use neurological data to study and tailor advertising campaigns, not exactly an endearing choice of career for our leading man. Patrick has a terrible bedside manner so doesn’t practice and he appears addicted to pharmaceuticals for sleep. Durcan gets in some zingers directed at the MBAs busily undermining North American companies:

Patrick had noted that there was something about their business school education that caused them to come out with identical responses to any problem. And not a collective response either. These three budding masters of the universe were definitely not “one plan – one mind” or “all on the same page” or whatever Cliche’ they used this week; you could put these three in separate soundproof rooms for six months and they would still emerge ending each other’s sentences with a frightening certainty. It was as though any difference in culture or gender – Marc-Andre was ostensibly French and Jessica was at least genetically a female – had been shimmed away by their MBA training – giving the impression that they instead had graduated from a military academy or a theological college.

And the hired CEO “as more of a throwback, a gentleman privateer in the midst of an army of corporate automatons.”

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Patrick met Garcia as a teenager when he was caught spraying graffiti on Garcia’s local grocery in Montreal and is made to work in the store as restitution. Patrick stays on, learns that Garcia was once a doctor who still offers illegal medical services to poor immigrants and decides to study medicine himself. Along the way he has an affair with Garcia’s beautiful daughter.

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Now Patrick can’t believe that Garcia is guilty of the war crimes he is accused of and travels to the Hague to witness the trial. Details of Honduras and the Sandinista during the 80′s is scarce here and it is hard to get a picture or speculate about Garcia’s possible role. Garcia dies before a verdict is given, much as Slobodan Milosevic and Augusto Pinochet avoided verdicts by dying, an altogether unsatisfying outcome in this novel as well.

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