One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

TL;DR Synopsis

A big readheaded guy is admitted to an asylum and becomes the head nurse’s worst nightmare.

TL;DR Review

Pretty good. But I identified with the antagonist far more than the protagonists.

Read It If:

  • you have to read “a classic” for something, but don’t like most classics
  • mental health fascinates you
  • you’re working through Tequila Mockingbird and reading them in order makes your little heart happy (oh, was that just me?)

Skip It If:

  • you want a modern take on the asylum
  • surrealism and ambiguity isn’t your bag


For New Year’s, I bought a book on cocktails called Tequila Mockingbird. It features drinks based off of famous literary works, and as soon as I saw it, I knew I had to have it. The first drink is “One Flew Over the Cosmo’s Nest,” based off of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which I had never read. The drink recipe looked good, and One Flew has been on my to-read list for years, so I set off to the library and picked up a copy.

I enjoyed the book much more than I thought I would. Based off of the first few pages, I thought it was going to be a bit of a slog, but the story really picks up quickly and stays pretty engaging throughout. There were parts where I had to force myself to just buckle down and read, but they were few and far between. Thank goodness, because the book is deceptively long, and I don’t know if I would have made myself keep going if there was a lot of boredom in the pages.

Going into the book knowing nothing about the story other than it involving the clinically insane, I was surprised by how much I identified with the Big Bad, Nurse Ratched. She’s portrayed as overly controlling, calculating, and cold. And she is all of these things. But she’s also doing her best in an environment that is primed to reject her. She enforces strict order because she feels that the men would benefit from a routine. Does she go too far? Yes. But I understood her thought process and her intent. She’s calculating because she’s a woman in the medical field, and if her every action isn’t thought out beforehand, she runs the risk of losing the prestige she’s had to work extra-hard to obtain. She’s cold because she’s beautiful, and she is already the recipient of a great deal of inappropriate behavior and comments. If she were any warmer to the residents, it would be easy for her to fall victim to further sexual harassment and perhaps even assault, and during the time, would most definitely be considered at fault.

Meanwhile, McMurphy is stirring up trouble just because he can. And while some good does come of it, it’s also egotistical and, frankly, annoying. I know (and I’m sure we all know) people who stir up trouble just to garner attention, and it’s almost always annoying and unnecessary.

The tension I felt because of my strong identification with the “wrong” character made the book more interesting to me than it may be to others, but I would recommend it to anyone who’s interested. It’s a good piece of writing that’s been around so long for a reason.


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