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Pederson-Krag, G. (1949). Which Way Out. Stories Based on the Experience of a Psychiatrist: By C. P. Oberndorf, M.D. New York: International Universities Press, Inc., 1949. 236 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 18:510-511.

(1949). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 18:510-511

Which Way Out. Stories Based on the Experience of a Psychiatrist: By C. P. Oberndorf, M.D. New York: International Universities Press, Inc., 1949. 236 pp.

Review by:
Geraldine Pederson-Krag

This is a collection of short stories illustrating such conditions as transitory mania, suicidal depressions, female homosexuality, hysterical paralysis, and malingering with socioeconomic implications. Though written in a style pleasantly reminiscent of Conan Doyle, O. Henry, and de Morgan, they should not be appraised by comparison with fiction. The writer of fiction creates characters to still his own conscious or unconscious urges, makes them from fragments of his own psyche, infuses them with his own breath. Through his art the reader transiently knows what it is like to experience the emotional stress portrayed. Not so in Which Way Out. Dr. Oberndorf depicts rather how it feels to observe people in stress, and the interplay of forces which resulted in the unusual conduct. As a result these tales recall the way clinical medicine is learned, not by dint of scanning symptoms printed in a textbook, but rather by familiarity with certain individuals who typify the ailments from which they suffer.

As these narratives show, however, understanding of psychopathology entails more than ability to recognize trivia of behavior which, when added together, have diagnostic significance. There is appreciation of the matrix in which the malady occurs, the patient's social and economic circumstances. Here these circumstances are depicted by many vivid visual details, typical and specific for times as well as places.

Even more important than comprehension of externals is an objective realization of what suffering means to the patient: that he is not a bizarre automaton but a fellow being struggling to find his way out of intolerable traps. This valuable clinical asset is strikingly shown in these descriptions of troubled people, revealing that the worth of these stories is due as much to the author's human sympathy as to his literary skill.

With the viewpoint of a single physician, the book covers four decades, travels from luxurious hotels to charity wards, from one side of the Atlantic to the other. Psychiatrists will read it for diversion, laymen for instruction, and both will find what they seek in it.

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