The M.D.

ISBN: 039458662X
ISBN 13: 9780394586625
By: Thomas M. Disch

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About this book

Exploring questions of guilt and responsibility, the second book in Thomas M. Disch's Supernatural Minnesota series, The M.D., is a satisfying mix of dark humor, biting social commentary, and terrifying horror. Given the power to heal or to harm by the Roman god Mercury through a magical staff, the caduceus, young Billy Michaels embarks on a lifelong journey of inflicting good and evil on those who cross his path. Wielding the caduceus, Billy, and later the grown-up, greedy physician William, can only cure in proportion to the amount of suffering he inflicts. From paralyzing his brother and mutilating schoolmates to wreaking a nationwide plague and running for-profit concentration camps for the sick, Michaels's powers spin quickly out of control.

Reader's Thoughts


George: I read this a long time ago, but I remember it as being very good, unique and fast reading. I believe it is an excellent book that was overlooked by most people. It may be of most interest to guys.


This is subtitled "A Horror Story", and while that's accurate I wouldn't say this is horror in the sense most of us think when we hear the term. It's not scary, and few of the normal trappings of a horror story are present. Still, this is a tale of something horrible, even monstrous.The M.D. is the story of a young boy who is faced with a monstrous bargain: he can heal, but only in direct relation to the amount of life-force he uses to charge up his caduceus. I love the twisting of this medical symbol into a magic wand of sorts, especially one geared toward creating as much death and suffering as it does healing. Disch took the idea even further, and it gets very interesting, but no spoilers here.This is the second book in the Supernatural Minnesota quartet, and while the books don't form a series there is a definite theme and feel that ties them together. Like King, Disch writes deep, sympathetic characters, and he's not afraid to make you love a character and then have horrible things happen to them. This is his strength, along with a quiet, slow-burning way of writing that belies the dark nature of these tales. Good stuff.


great book,

Bruce Reid

Genuinely unnerving, not due to discrete horrific setpieces (though it has its share) but the sustained tone of sociopathic detachment. When a literalized evil treats the world as a petri dish for its disinterested, coolly scientific inquiries, anything can happen; here, it does, again and again. Less wickedly hilarious than some other Disch, but no less wicked. A recent reread confirmed this as on of the scariest books I know.


horrible could not recommend it


Wildly imaginative, I found this fever-dream of a tale to be viscerally & profoundly disturbing. So naturally I read it twice. Can't say that about many other books.

Robert Beveridge

Thomas M. Disch, The M.D. (Berkley, 1991)There's a scene about halfway through The M.D. that really shows why Thomas M. Disch, though not a household name in letters, is revered by critics and discerning bibliophiles. I'm usually the harshest of reviewers when it comes to message fiction, that strain of writing where the plot is stopped in order for the writer to advance a point of view. But there's a debate here between a tobacco advocacy group executive and a bright thirteen-year-old boy that is so sparkling, not to mention well-written, that it's actually one of the best parts of the book. And I don't even agree with the viewpoint that wins. Of course, this could be because unlike most message fiction, Disch actually manages to make this debate integral to the plot. Yes, I mean integral; it sets up a couple of things that aren't exactly plot points, but that the whole framework of the fourth part of the book rests on. This isn't just some guy ranting, it's some guy who's plotted his book out in such detail that he knows exactly how far he can go with this diatribe and still get away with it. That's the mark of a master, and make no mistake about it—Thomas M. Disch defines “master”. He's like the Einsturzende Neubauten of American writers; not well-known by the public, but hugely influential among those who do the same thing he does.The M.D. is the story of Billy, who is six years old and stuck in Catholic primary school as we start the book. After being told by a nun that Santa Claus doesn't exist, Billy contradicts her—after all, he's seen Santa Claus with his own two eyes. This exchange ends with Billy being sent to the office, but he never gets there. Instead, he runs away (without his coat in the middle of winter) to his private place, a secluded part of the local park, where we find out that maybe Billy isn't kidding, for Santa Claus appears to him again and promises that he's going to tell Billy a secret sometime soon. And when he does, this time appearing in the guise of the god Mercury, what a secret it is. Billy's annoying older brother Ned has created a makeshift caduceus in order to terrorize Billy; he took two twined sticks and tied a dead bird to them. Not your classic caduceus, to be sure, but where the sign of Mercury exists, he can invest it with power. And he bequeaths the caduceus to Billy, who can use it to heal. But it has a finite amount of energy. In order to replenish it, Billy must also make things sick...This is your basic three-wishes story, but unlike most stories of this type, we have a thoughtful protagonist who actually learns from his mistakes as he goes along. That alone would make it worth your time, for it's one of the few innovations that could make such a clichéd storyline worth reading again. But Disch writes with an eye to, well, just about everything. We often love writers for doing one thing exceptionally well; Stephen King's absolute mastery of characterization, Dorothy Dunnett's intricate plotting, James Michener's meticulous research. Disch has taken all of the ways in which a writer can specialize and balanced them. It all works here, and it all works exceptionally. My only problem with the book is something that couldn't have been foreseen in 1991; he sets the fourth part of the book in 1999, and as usual with such things, what it looks like on paper and what it actually looked like are such different things that I can't help laughing at it. Also, as you might expect from some of my comments above, Disch tends towards fairy tale-style language here. Most of the time it's not at all intrusive, and it lends the book an interesting, amusing tone for being the drama/medical thriller novel that it is. Once we get into the fourth section, though, and head into the world of fantasy/sci-fi, the mix falls flat. Perhaps I've been spoiled by the recent steampunk and mythpunk books that have done it so perfectly, but that part of the book doesn't work as well as the first three. Still, the obscurity into which this book has fallen is a crime. Not surprising, given that Disch is not the literary rockstar he deserves to be, but saddening anyway. Find a copy and discover, or rediscover, the wonderful world of Tom Disch. *** ½


Read this many years ago and have been trying to find out the name of the book and the author for ages. Finally found it, now I have to get my hands on a copy and read it again!

Stuart Chandler

Engaging horror/sci fi. Read it a long time ago but remember that I enjoyed it. Maybe I have a light morbid fascination when it comes to book selection.


Very entertaining, snarky novel with a wicked sense of black humor.

♥ Marlene♥

Back in my Stephen King days I was always trying to find a writer like him. Well Thomas M. Disch is not like him but in his own way, just as good.It ha been so long since I've read this book (Read it in Dutch and still have a Dutch copy) but i do remember I loved this book.So If you like King, try this book. Very good blend mixing horror and fantasy.


Ok, Heres a Doozy for ya.I had not went the Disch route before and quickly found that this guyis pretty darn GOod.The book is Intelligent and Cruel. The main character is a boy whosee's Santa Clause and is givin a wand stick(ITs Magic Baby) Well hesoon grows up enough and does not believe in Santa any Longer. SoSanta turns into something more believable. That Stick has some kindaVoodoo on it I tell ya. Only thing is, theres always that damn priceyou gotta pay for using it.I have to say the boy was a character you really cared and felt for.even though he kept innocently wrecking peoples lifes. his story wenton so long you wondered when Disch would finally get to the Adult partof his tale. Unfortunately when it does. The story seems rushed and hereally isn't someone you care about anymore. Freakin Dumbass with aMagic Stick.This story was still very well written for the most part and very Dark.Disch was obviously a very cynical man.(a recent suicide victim/May heRest in Peace)4 Hail Larrys outta 5


Great and engaging for the first half I was ready for a good follow up when the protagonist grew up. But then it just became ordinary and uninteresting. Didn't care for the ending just disjointed and silly. Still the first half is good enough to deserve the four stars.


I randomly found this book in a used bookstore and picked it up because of the rave endorsements. The plot summary makes the book sound a bit crazy and all over the place (a little boy visited by a vision of Santa who really turns out to be the god Mercury who wants his soul, etc. etc. etc.) but it works once you start reading. The first 3/4 of the book was great, with very dark humor and original ideas, but it totally fell apart in the last 100 or so pages, so only 3 stars.


Just creepy enough to keep reading!

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