KENNETH MILLAR – The Three Roads. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1948. Also published as by Ross Macdonald: Bantam, paperback, 1960. Many other reprint editions exist. Film: As Double Negative (Quadrant, 1980).

   Lieutenant Bret Taylor returns from WWII, but his memory is shot to pieces. He is physically unscathed; he doesn’t have a traumatic brain injury. But for some reason he can’t remember a damn thing.

   The psychiatrists feel like it’s some kind of guilt complex. His carrier was sunk at Pearl Harbor, and he feels responsible for the ship and the men that were lost. His mother apparently died when he was four years old, and he blames himself for it. And when he came back home from the war, he walked into his house only to find his young wife murdered: assailant unknown.

   He leaves the VA psychiatric facility against physician advice to track down the murderer. He feels that if only he can solve his wife’s murder, his memories will come back to him, and he can finally live again. But be careful what you wish for.

   It’s a pretty good idea for a story. But the book really freaking sucks. It’s got to be one of the worst novels I’ve ever read. I hated it.

   Why, you ask?

   First of all, the thing is terribly overwritten. He even has a character make a denigrating comment about Hemingway’s style — so it’s clear that the verbosity is actually on purpose. He even has the temerity to wink at the reader at one point behind a character’s back saying: “He didn’t know what irony was, but it was irony he was enjoying.” What the hell? You don’t need to be an English lit PhD like Millar to enjoy irony. You don’t even have to know the word. If the character was enjoying the irony he was enjoying the irony. I can die of arsenic even if I don’t know the word arsenic. But let’s all have a little laugh at the expense of the uneducated here folks.

   Secondly, the thing is completely devoted to Freud. Seriously. The title comes from the book’s epigram, and has nothing to do with the story other than some implied Oedipus complex that Bret Taylor is allegedly working through: “For now am I discovered vile, and of the vile. O ye three roads, and thou concealed dell, and oaken copse, and narrow outlet of three ways, which drank my own blood….”–SOPHOCLES, Oedipus Tyrannus. If I were smart I would have stopped there. But hey. Who said I was smart?

   Here’s an example of the horribly overwritten Freudian tripe you’ll be force fed should you choose to treat yourself to this crap:

   “‘I have sometimes thought that we of the Viennese school have paid too little attention to problems of moral guilt. Freud himself was a child of his century. He never quite outgrew the physiological laboratory and its atmosphere of materialistic determinism. It is curious, is it not, that the subtlest introspectionist since Augustine should have under-valued the moral and religious life and seen the human mind in terms of blind forces working in Newtonian space?’ ‘You’re talking like a Jungian,’ she said.”

   The above quote reminded me of a bit from Woody Allen’s Love and Death:

   “Don’t you know that murder carries with it a moral imperative that transcends any notion of inherent universal free will?”

   “That is incredibly jejune.”

   “Jejune?! You have the temerity to say that I’m talking to you out of jejunosity? I am one of the most june people in all of the Russias.”

   It’s enough to make you wish Mike Hammer would show up and start punching people in the nose.

   Lastly, the ending is tremendously unsatisfying. The final chapter is entitled “Doomsday” and is over 100 pages. But Doomsday is an vast overstatement. No justice is served, and everyone is left feeling decidedly mediocre — especially the reader.