Jesse Ball

A Cure for Suicide

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A Cure for Suicide Summary

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Jesse Ball’s novel A Cure for Suicide (2015) has been described as a modern day fable for its use of abstracted, symbolic characters, and its openly philosophical approach to its subject matter. It has also been described as dystopian, for its setting in an ominous and arguably deeply dysfunctional fictitious society. A Cure for Suicide tells the story of a heartbroken man who defies his depression by seeking an extreme treatment touted as the “cure” for suicide. The cure erases patients’ memories and most of their adult skills; returned to a childlike state, but cleansed of any painful memories, they are taught to function again by a mysterious carer.

The protagonist of A Cure for Suicide is not initially given a name; he is referred to only as “the claimant.” Having just suffered the break up of a romance, he is devastated. He is severely depressed, but not quite suicidal. Instead, he seeks the cure for suicide: the complete erasure of his memory. It will be his chance to start again, from scratch, without any of the pain of his current life.

To do this, the claimant first goes to meet a person called the interlocutor. The interlocutor has the claimant tell him his story. He does so, and eventually, the interlocutor agrees to administer the “cure,” a shot that resets his memory. Letters are sent to his former friends and family informing them that the person they once knew no longer exists as such.

The claimant then wakes up in a village of identical generic houses, with a person called “the examiner.” The claimant will be called Anders, the examiner explains, and he can call her Teresa. Their relationship is not an equal one; the examiner plays a didactic role in the claimant’s new life, helping to teach him basic skills. For instance, the examiner teaches the claimant what a chair is. Later, she teaches him about cleaning: “We will stand for a moment in the kitchen,” she tells him at one point, “which we will have cleaned, and we will feel a small rise of pleasure at having set things right.” She goes on to explain, “It is an enduring satisfaction for our species to make little systems and tend to them.” In this fashion, the claimant makes swift progress in remastering these basic skills.

However, there is a problem. The claimant suffers from traumatic dreams, in which he calls out someone’s name. It seems that his past has not been completely eradicated, still existing in his unconscious; perhaps it will break into his conscious mind, undoing the effects of the cure. The examiner attempts to mitigate the damage of these dreams by telling the claimant that she is responsible for them. Nevertheless, the dreams continue and the claimant ends up hurting himself. The examiner decides that he must be “fogged” and have his memory reset once again.

When the claimant next awakens, he is in a new village and has a new, older examiner. He begins his lessons over again, surpassing his last attempts. He often finds himself moved between houses and villages in the middle of the night, while drugged. He is given several names. His new examiner gives him many excruciatingly exact, and apparently arbitrary tasks, and the claimant wonders if he can trust her.

Eventually, the claimant meets another claimant called Hilda. He quickly becomes infatuated with Hilda, and one night at dinner, she asks him to meet her secretly. The claimant does so. Hilda admits to having secret knowledge about the village, and what goes on behind the scenes. She shows him that they are in danger, and asks the claimant to meet her at an appointed time and place; they will escape the village together. The claimant cannot bring himself to show up, despite what he has learned of the village, and Hilda is apprehended. The claimant feels so much shame and regret over his betrayal of Hilda that he has to be fogged yet again.

After some time, the claimant gets a name he likes, Henry, and is moved into a final village. His examiner recommends that he be given a permanent caretaker. His caretaker is Hilda – now named Nancy. The claimant thinks that Nancy is unaware of her former life as Hilda. In fact, she has merely risen to the status of examiner herself. The claimant accepts her caretaking because he thinks that he is actually the one taking care of her. Their arrangement, although fraught with deception on all sides, is mutually satisfying.

Ball’s novel is deeply concerned with the extent to which pain, loss, and trauma inform identity. His claimant, in seeking to escape one kind of emotional pain, condemns himself to a never-ending parade of several new kinds as he is shepherded through the “process” of being shaped into a new person. A Cure for Suicide is also notably pessimistic about the possibility of honesty in interpersonal relationships. All of the relationships that occur in Process Village are founded on deception and conspiracy – even, and perhaps especially, those that seem the most fulfilling.