In 2008, writer Nicholas Evans came close to death. The author of “The Horse Whisperer” was poisoned after eating wild mushrooms found on a country hike with family. He now says this ordeal enriched the writing of his fifth novel. It is the story of an estranged father and son: Both harbor dark secrets and struggle with notions about bravery. The plot moves from a brutal English boarding school, to the glamorous Hollywood of the 1960s, then to the modern battlefields of the Iraq War before returning to the setting of all his novels: the American West.
- Nicholas Evans Author of five novels, including “The Horse Whisperer.”
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. Author Nicholas Evans published four novels between 1995 and 2005, most famously, "The Horse Whisperer." But it took him five years to finish his latest book. That's because he became gravely ill after eating poisonous mushrooms found on a family hike. He survived to tell the tale and now joins us to explain how his ordeal enriched his new novel. The title is "The Brave." Nicholas Evans joins me in the studio. We do invite you to join us as well, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Nicholas Evans, thanks for being here.
MR. NICHOLAS EVANSThanks for having me, Diane.
REHMFirst of all, tell me how you are?
EVANSI'm well, actually. I've -- it's now two years since we ate these wretched mushrooms and they destroyed our kidneys, four of us. Well, one of us has escaped and is off dialysis now and has about 15 percent kidney function, but three of us, my wife, my brother-in-law and I have to do dialysis every other day for five hours. And -- but, you know, your body -- the human body is an amazing thing and you kind of get used to it. And so on my non-dialysis days, I feel pretty good now.
REHMTell me how this happened. Are you and your wife and your family experienced mushroom hunters?
EVANSIt was a classic case of two people each thinking the other one knew what he or she was doing. And these were mushrooms that grew on the land of the family that we were staying with, my brother-in-law's family. And his wife and I just -- each of us thought the other one knew what they were and we'd both got it wrong. And quite sort of stupidly wrong because when we did look up in the book the next day -- I've always been very cautious about mushrooms, but on this particular occasion, we didn't check...
EVANSAnd the next day when we looked into the field guide, we saw what we'd eaten and there was a rather ominous notice underneath it saying, deadly, poisonous. And actually, we were really lucky to live through it because we had very quick medical attention. We knew what it was and -- but all they did wasn't enough to save our kidneys, so we all need transplants now.
REHMHow quickly did the symptoms -- did you realize your body had been terribly affected?
EVANSYeah, it hit us each in a different way. I mean, that evening -- we had them for lunch on the Saturday and that evening, I love to run and I -- and it's a beautiful place and I went for this long run, about an hour and a half, around the forest and the rivers and had a great swim in one of the rivers and I felt, I felt, I'd never felt better, actually.
EVANSAnd then overnight, it clicked in and my brother-in-law was the first to feel bad, then my wife and then I started to feel bad and by the end of the -- by the end of the following -- well, about midway through the following day, we were all hospitalized and on dialysis within three days.
REHMAnd how long were you hospitalized?
EVANSWe were in hospital for about a month.
EVANSAnd then -- and then we were well enough to fly back down to the Southwest of England where I live and the life on dialysis began and it's quite a -- it's a strange thing because you're -- you know, you're needled up and I found I can't work on dialysis, which is terribly frustrating. I have these 15 hours of enforced stillness, but I do a lot of reading and I listen to music and I've gotten used to it. It's fine.
REHMOf course, there are new techniques which even allow you, I gather, to undergo dialysis as you sleep, for example.
EVANSYes. And in Britain, that is only the PD dialysis, it's a kind of liquid dialysis, not hemo, not blood dialysis.
EVANSBut you can home dialyze even with a blood machine. I unfortunately live in quite a remote place where there isn't main sewage, so I -- and it uses vast amounts of water so we couldn't. It's not feasible for me to do that.
REHMWhat are the options? You said you're awaiting kidney transplant. What are the odds?
EVANSThey tell you -- they let you down quite gently to start with. They tell you it's three years and three years on the waiting list for a cadaveric kidney. That's a dead person's kidney. Of course, live donors, it's probably a better option and oh, I have three grown up children who are hectoring me to let me have one of their kidneys and I can't quite yet get my head around that. I've had three wonderful friends who've offered, a cousin who's offered. I'm a difficult blood group and although A and B can give to group O, which is my blood group, it's more complicated and they have to do a lot of work to knock out all your antibodies before the transplant, but it is possible. There's a lot of work going on on that front.
REHMWell, I wish you well. Tell me how that experience affected your thinking, your writing, your work on this book, "The Brave?"
EVANSWell, it's been five years since my last book and that's because this poisoning happened halfway through and I didn't really touch the book for about -- about over a year. And then, when I went back to it about a year ago and I had opened the file, I found that I wanted to do all kinds of things to it. I -- it's a strange thing, but it's, I think, a lot better a book as a result of what happened to us. It's very strange, these crisis moments and the effect that they have on your view of life and your powers of empathy. I mean, I think I've always been a bit overloaded with empathy, which is probably why I can't get my head around taking a kidney from one of my kids.
EVANSBut I -- when I got back into this story, I lived and breathed these characters and in particular the boy, the main -- the main character is called Tom Bedford and as a little boy, Tommy. We meet him first in 1959 when he's being sent off to a very brutal boarding school and he's obsessed with cowboys and Indians, like I was. And he -- his -- it's really his only escape and comfort. Flint McCullough, the scout from Wagon Train who was everybody's -- every boy's hero in those days. Actually, a lot of mums liked him, too, because he was a pretty sexy guy. And little Tommy, his dreams come true when his sister, who's an up and coming actress called Diane, aptly named, meets a TV cowboy actor called Ray Montane and they go off to live in Hollywood. And of course, Ray...
REHMAnd she takes Tommy with her.
EVANSShe does and Tommy -- Tommy's dreams have come true, but of course this being a Nicholas Evans novel, it quickly goes wrong and Ray Montane, the cowboy, isn't quite what he first seems.
REHMHe's kind of a rat.
EVANSHe's quite a rat.
REHMIf you ask me and that's the way such novels go. You dedicated "The Brave" to your sister. Tell us why.
EVANSWell, my sister was the target of all my cowboys and Indians playing I suppose. She's three years older than me and I used to -- she was the one who got jumped on from the garage roof and I'd attack her with a tomahawk and tie her up and shoot arrows at her and bless her heart, she still talks to me and I think that this -- that at least merits the dedication in a book. She's a...
REHMYour empathy had not yet taken hold.
EVANSNo. I think that's probably why I had this kind of psychopathic childhood when I was murdering cowboys and Indians.
REHMWhat about the writing life. When did that first instill itself?
EVANSI've always been a writer, Diane, in one way or another. I started off -- when I was at school, I used to write little plays and short stories and so on. And then I had -- when I went to university, I was -- for a brief period, I deluded myself that I could be an actor. And thank God, discovered that I wasn't very good at it and I went off to be a journalist after I read -- I studied law at university. I didn't want to be a lawyer, much to my father's dismay and so I became a journalist and so I worked on a newspaper then with a TV company and then I started writing screenplays. And when my film -- my brief and not very golden film career fell apart, I wrote the next story as a novel and that was "The Horse Whisperer."
REHMAnd that was such a success.
EVANSYeah, it was -- it was quite -- quite extraordinary, too, for it to happen. I mean, it was like a -- it still seems a bit surreal at that time.
REHMHow did you feel about the movie itself?
EVANSI liked the first half of the movie very much, but I think it got a bit lost halfway through. And I think they didn't -- I used to work in movies a bit and they didn't get the script straight before they started and so you can -- if you know, you can see where it went wrong in the second half, but I think the acting was splendid. The setting, the direction, everything was wonderful about it. It's just they messed the story up a bit in the second half. But I'm very grateful that it happened. I mean, it was remarkable.
REHMIt was a big hit. The book was a huge hit, the movie less so, but nevertheless got lots of viewers.
EVANSYeah, it was aimed more -- funny enough, the book is an adult book, although young people read it, too, but the movie seemed to me to be much more for kids, much more for sort of teenage girls and I -- and the book is really Annie, the mother's story and it's not a horse book. I never thought of it as a horse book.
REHMNicholas Evans, his new novel from which he'll read when we come back is titled "The Brave." Stay with us.
REHMWelcome back. Novelist Nicholas Evans is with me. He is, of course, the author of "The Horse Whisperer." But there is a new novel written after five years. It's titled "The Brave." The central character is a man named Tom, but early on in the book, we meet him as a 13-year-old going to visit his mother. Would you read that portion for us and set it up for us?
EVANSSo here's Tom -- Tommy going to see his mom who's in prison. We don't yet know why, but we do find out. This is how the book starts. "The boy followed the guard along the corridor watching the sway of his wide backside and the belt with its handcuffs and baton and the big bunch of keys that jangled as he walked. The back of the man's blue shirt was stained with sweat and he kept wiping his neck with the palm of one hand. It was a part of the prison the boy hadn't been allowed into before. The walls were bare and whitewashed and there were no windows, just fluorescent boxes on the ceiling speckled inside with dead bugs. The air was still and hot and smelled of stale cabbage.
EVANSHe could hear distance voices, someone shouting, someone laughing, the clank and echo of metal doors. Somewhere a radio was playing the Beatles' new number one, 'A Hard Day's Night.' The boy's weekly visits usually took place in the long hall next to the waiting room. He was almost always the only child there and the guards knew him by now and were friendly, chatting with him as they led him into one of the booths. Then he'd have to sit there staring through the glass divider waiting for them to bring his mother in through the steel door in the back wall. There were always two guards with rifles. He'd never forget the shock of that first time they'd let her in.
EVANSThe sight of her in a ugly brown prison dress and handcuffs and ankle chains, her hair cut short like a boy's. He'd felt a pain in his chest as if his heart was being pried open like a mussel shell. When he came in, she always -- when she came in, she always scanned the booths for him and smiled when she saw him and the guard would bring her over and sit her down in front of him and remove the cuffs and she'd kiss the palm of her hand and press it to the glass and he would do the same. But today, it was different. They were going to be allowed to meet in a private room, just the two of them, with no divider. They would be able to touch for the first time in almost a year and for the last time ever.
EVANSWherever the guard was leading him seemed a long way inside the prison. It was a maze of cement corridors with a dozen or more barred and double-locked doors, but at last they reached one made of solid steel with a little wired glass window in it. The guard pressed a button on the wall and another guard's face, a woman this time, appeared in the window. The door buzzed and clicked open. The woman had plump cheeks that glistened with sweat. She smiled down at him, 'You must be Tommy.' He nodded. 'Follow me, Tommy, it's just along here.' She walked ahead of him. 'Your mom's told us all about you. Boy, is she proud of you. You're just 13, right?' 'Yes.' 'A teenager. Wow, I've got a 13-year-old. Boy, is he a handful.'
EVANSIs this death row?' She smiled, 'No, Tommy.' 'Where is it then?' 'You don't ought to be thinking about that.' There were steel doors all along one side of the corridor with red and green lights above them and the woman stopped outside the last one. She looked through the tiny spy hole then unlocked the door and stepped aside for him to go in. 'There you go, Tommy.' The room had white walls and a metal table with two metal chairs and there was a single-barred window through which the sun was shafting down and making a crisscross square on the cement floor. His mother was standing in the middle of it quite still shielding her eyes from the sun and smiling at him.
EVANSInstead of the prison uniform, she was wearing a plain white shirt and slacks, no handcuffs or ankle chains. She looked like an angel, as if she were already in heaven."
REHMNicholas Evans reading from the start of his new novel, it's titled "The Brave." His mother is in prison for murder. She is facing the gas chamber and Tommy is angry.
EVANSYeah, he's really angry because a lie has been told and it's the kind of lie that can't be put back in the bag. And many, many years later, he will -- for all of his life, he'll regret that he was so angry on that last day that he saw her, but he just feels his whole life is being taken away from him.
REHMWe then move back a few years to before his mother is in prison, when Tommy goes off with his sister to Hollywood. Now, first of all, how much time have you spent surveying prisons?
EVANSPrisons. Well, I found an absolutely wonderful piece of gold dust. Actually, a lady who works for Californian -- the Californian Corrections Department and she took it upon herself to tell me everything that I needed to know about what a prison must've been like in the early 1960s, a women's prison, so that's all I needed to do.
REHMSo you did not go inside yourself?
EVANSNot now because it's, you know, so many years later, it's not -- these places have changed enormously, so I needed to find somebody who knew.
REHMI felt those corridors, I felt those windows. It was -- it's really a remarkable piece of writing.
REHMSecond, it seemed to me that Tommy never ever lost his anger. It just stayed with him his whole life.
EVANSYes. When we meet the adult Tommy, the two stories, they kind of cross cut. We go from -- they run in parallel and we dip from one to the other. And when we first meet the adult Tom, as he now calls himself, he's living in Missoula, Mont., he's a loner, he's divorced. He's a reformed alcoholic and got himself together, but is in a very solitary kind of way. And we know that something terrible has happened in his past that has blighted his whole life. And gradually we discover, as the story progresses, what that is, what happened to the young Tommy.
REHMSome of this story, I gather, is autobiographical. For example, the bullying he experienced, you experienced in school.
EVANSI didn't really get bullied, actually, Diane, but it was a place that was full of bullies. I was quite a sporty kid and I was good at boxing, so people didn't tend to mess with me much, but there was a lot of cruelty. I mean, Latin -- in most cases, from the start, actually, there were some nice teachers, but there were two or three who actually, nowadays, would've been locked up. I mean, brutal beatings. That said, I loved every minute of it. (laugh) It was such fun. It was a curious thing.
EVANSI mean, once you get over the -- I was sent away at the age of eight to a school that was only two miles from where I lived. My parents thought that it was, you know, the thing to do. Neither of them had ever done it and had they ever been sent away to boarding school, they would've known that it probably wasn't a nice thing to do to their child, but once I got over that strange feeling of, well, I must've done something wrong to be suddenly sent away here...
EVANS...I got to enjoy it. I enjoyed the sport. I loved the rugby and the soccer and...
REHMBut did you tell your parents what you were seeing, what you were experiencing?
EVANSYou know, that's the interesting thing. There's a conspiracy of silence about these things. If you get beaten by a teacher for doing something wrong, you won't tell your parents about it because there's some part of you that thinks that it's deserved and shameful. And if you're getting bullied, you don't want to upset them by telling them that, you know, things aren't going right. So no. I only told my -- I only told mother about ten years ago and she died five years ago and she was horrified...
EVANS...to hear that these things...
EVANS...had happened, yeah. In fact, they used to have one of these teachers around for dinner. The most psychopathic of all of them who (laugh) -- and I couldn't understand...
EVANS...how they could entertain this monster in our -- in their house.
REHMWell, now, speaking of monsters, talk about the original inspiration for this story.
EVANSThe first idea -- glimmer of an idea came when I was watching the TV news around the time when we invaded Iraq and I saw George Bush down on the ranch in Texas walking along, a bit like John Wayne, with a Stetson and cowboy boots. And I thought, isn't it fascinating that at a time of huge international crisis, the leader of the free world wants to present himself as a cowboy. And how powerful the myth of the West is still, even though we know the truth, the conquering of the West was a saga of almost unmitigated murder and mayhem. Not just of human beings, but of animals, too, 70 million buffalo killed in 15 years.
EVANSAnd yet, even though we know this truth, the golden myth of the stoic cowboy, firm set jaw gazing off into the horizon, laconic, powerful is much more powerful than the truth. I'm not saying there weren't a lot of good and brave and wonderful people at that time, there were and still are, but I -- got me thinking about the influence of these times and the whole notion of bravery and what, in particular, little boys of my generation were taught about being brave. And we picked up all of this kind of trappings or the influences of bravery from those hokey old TV westerns we watched.
EVANSAnd I wanted to tell a story where we discover our heroes aren't quite what they're cracked up to be, that behind the golden image, there is sometimes something that isn't quite so good. And Hollywood, of course, is the place where these -- where reality is on suspense. And one of the main characters in the story is this TV cowboy, Ray Montane, who seems wonderful, but turns out not to be.
REHMAnd Tommy goes off to Hollywood with his sister and this Ray Montane, but he experiences a real golden opportunity to be with a man who is a Native American.
EVANSYeah, Tommy, of course, as a kid, saw Indians in these westerns as the baddies. You know...
EVANS...they were totally expendable. For me, they were always the most thrilling, actually much more thrilling than the cowboys. That music when they come up onto the skyline, you know, that dun, dun, dun, dun. I just -- I used to shiver when I saw that, but Tommy does get to meet a wrangler, his -- Ray Montane's stunt double. Ray can't barely ride a horse. (laugh) I mean, he can't -- let alone jump off rocks or get into fights, but -- so all of his work is done by this great guy called Cal Matheson, who's half Blackfeet, and teaches Tommy how to ride and they become fast friends.
REHMNicholas Evans, his new novel is titled "The Brave." Do join us, 800-433-8850. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I think it wasn't until "Dances With Wolves" came out with Kevin Costner that we began to really understand that Trail of Tears, that hideous imposition that we as Western Europeans, newly created Americans, imposed on those Native Americans.
EVANSYes. I agree with you. "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee," I suppose, was the first book that opened my eyes to it. And then "Dances With Wolves," which was absolutely astonishing. I thought it was -- it's one of the greatest films of my life, anyway. And interestingly, I have a -- I have three grown up kids, but I also have an eight-year-old boy and it's his favorite movie, too.
EVANSAbsolutely adores it.
REHMSo the idea that the Native Americans, the Indians, were the bad guys stayed with us for a very long time, but you don't just go into what happens out there in the Hollywood and artificial land, you also go into the Iraq war.
EVANSYeah, Tom -- the adult Tom, has a -- his estranged son, Danny, has joined the Marines. His stepfather is a Marine and very unlike Tom, the liberal dad. And Danny, in Iraq, gets involved in a terrible incident in which a number of Iraqi civilians, women and children, are killed, gunned down. It's a terrible confused mayhem of a moment. And Danny finds himself being accused of murder and he has to face the preliminary to a court-martial. And in the process of this happening, Tom and Danny start to find a sort of tentative connection again.
REHMBecause they've been so estranged.
EVANSWell, it's a good question, but all kinds of things went wrong in Tom's life. He didn't -- when he had Tommy, he started -- he couldn't really handle being a father as well as he wished he had...
REHMYou mean when he had Danny.
EVANSSorry, when he had Danny. Well done, Diane. And he started drinking and his marriage fell apart. He didn't do what he needed to for his son. They still kept in contact, but really, the boy's -- Danny's hero figure was his stepfather, this Marine. A good guy called Duke. And so Danny and Tom are very different kinds of people.
REHMIt's so interesting when you take characters through these various situations and then you come up with a title for the book, "The Brave." And the first question is what is brave? What does it mean? Who is brave? Why are they brave? When are they brave and when are they cowards? The book is titled "The Brave." Nicholas Evans is with me. We'll take a short break. When we come back, your calls.
REHMAnd here is our first e-mail. I'm sure you can appreciate this, Nicholas, it's from James who says, "It is slightly maddening to those of us who are amateur mycologists that Mr. Evans has not identified the mushroom that he and his companions ate. From his description of the effects and the delay of their onset, I would guess that it was an Amanita, perhaps the destroying angel or the death cap."
EVANSWell, James, it was none of those. Actually, it was a mushroom called Cortinarius speciosissimus, which is very close to the Cortinarius rubellus and its common name is the deathly -- deadly webcap.
REHMThe deadly webcap.
EVANSYeah, and we thought -- had we looked in the book, which of course -- which I'd always done. The irony is I'd always been so cautious about mushrooms -- picked them all my life, actually. Nothing spectacularly specialized, just field mushrooms in England and occasionally a parasol or something a little bit different. I'd once picked seps or porcini, as they're called in Italy. And this is what we thought they were. Had we looked in the book, we would have known they absolutely weren't because porcini have a very smooth, spongy underneath and these had gills.
EVANSBut the two of -- it was like, as I said to you, these two of us each thought the other knew what they were doing and it was a moment of absolute idiocy and with rather dire consequences.
REHMTell us about your wife.
EVANSWell, she's doing okay. She's doing it a -- she thought early on that she might be able to heal her kidneys by -- and was advised by a number of so-called healers that she could heal them and that hasn't happened and she's starting to do more dialysis now...
EVANS...which helps her out and she's okay. She should be doing more dialysis and she will be doing more dialysis. And soon -- and she's been offered a transplant by a friend, which is getting her into shape now.
REHMI see. Well, I want our listeners to know that you look fabulous.
REHMYou have pink in your cheeks, you look strong, you look well.
EVANSWell, that's nice of you to say that.
REHMI hope that continues.
EVANSIt's all the makeup, Diane.
REHMThere's not a drop. Here's an e-mail from Jesse in Arlington, Texas. He says, "Mr. Evans, I love your books. I was taken away on 'The Loop' as an avid environmentalist with the wolf as my favorite animal. It was a fascinating journey. It certainly is a keep on my shelf."
EVANSThat's very kind of you. Thanks so much.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Chip who's in St. Augustine, Fla. Good morning to you, sir.
CHIPGood morning. Thanks for having me on your show.
CHIPI'm fascinated by your information on the native Americans because I, too, you know, being totally English/Irish by descent, feel connected more with the Native Americans than the cowboys in the movies and all. I always wanted to be the Indian.
CHIPAnd part of it is that what I find fascinating is that Indians have always been tied to, like, scalping and a lot of the things like scalping that they are accused of were started actually by the white men. The white men -- that was a bounty that you collected the scalps. The Indians only did it because the white men did it, but it got turned around ,as so many other things. And then one day, I hope somebody finally puts out some -- the information on how many Indian mounds and Indian civilizations have all been destroyed, you know, methodically destroyed so that nobody would ever know the extent of their civilization here.
EVANSYes. Some terrible things, terrible things. I didn't know about the scalping thing.
REHMI didn't either.
REHMI had not known that.
CHIPIt started out as a bounty and the Indians said, well, if they're going to do it, we're going to do it (laugh).
REHMThanks for calling, Chip. I appreciate your comments. To Mark in Atlanta, Ga. Good morning.
MARKHow you doing? I wanted to compliment about the -- about the "Horse Whisperer." I grew up in Georgia and part of Georgia history in school that you're required to take, they do go a little -- they go kind of deeply into the Cherokee history of Georgia and -- but on the movie, it really opened my eyes about, you know, the conditions and things -- the Trail of Tears and all that and all the relocation and stuff. It really gave me a different perspective and I appreciate that. But I wanted to also ask you -- and Tommy seems like he's the same age as me, so I'm going to have to give that book a read. I'm going to -- I wanted to ask also, Diane, earlier in the show was talking about healthcare.
MARKNow, I almost died in 2006 from food poisoning myself when the bad spinach was going around and I lost 30 pounds in two weeks and all this kind of stuff. Anyways, I just curious if the first thing that happened to you was when the doctors told you you needed a transplant -- they basically told me, you're going to die unless we give you a transplant and we can fix you, but if you cannot afford to be -- to survive after we fix you, we're not going to fix you. So that's the problem with the American healthcare system and I'm wondering what your experience with that is.
EVANSWell, I live in England, Mark, and thank God I do, because everything that happened to us was taken care of by the National Health Service, which is publicly funded, and I owe my life to it. We all do, actually. I'm here in the United States now promoting "The Brave" and I'm having to pay for dialysis and, my goodness, it sure does cost a lot. It's, like, a thousand dollars a shot. And so you realize -- and that one little injection that I get once a week is $1,500 and we get all this for free in England. It's absolutely amazing. And when I was looking at what was happening with the healthcare system here...
EVANS...and the difficulty that President Obama had in getting his new system through, I thought, God, they oughta come on a trip to England and find out just what it's like.
REHMWell, did you hear members of Congress putting down the English system, talking about death panels and how people had to wait in line for healthcare, for surgery, how -- you know, how all awful it was.
EVANSYeah, and it's not true. I mean, the health system is -- there are problems, of course.
EVANSAnd there's always a funding problem and medicine is one of these areas which has a limitless, bottomless pit into which you can pour money. There are all these decisions that as drugs get made about who should have them and how you spend the money and new scientific things, machinery and so on that helps diagnose and find things early. And so you have to draw the line somewhere and there are problems, of course, in how you spend that money.
EVANSBut on the whole, it is the most remarkable place. I remember being in a diner in Oregon once a few years ago and this little old lady fell on the floor and clearly had some kind of fit, whether it was a stroke or a heart attack, and I watched these waiters, bless their hearts, standing around saying, should they call an ambulance because we didn't know -- they didn't know whether she had health insurance.
EVANSAnd you think, heavens above, thank goodness we're not in that state.
REHMWow. Mark, how are you now and how did you manage?
MARKI -- at the time, I was employed and had health benefits, but I -- and I very quickly met my out of pocket maximum, so that was the nice thing about that. And then -- but my kidneys have completely recovered and -- but my liver is permanently damaged. I'm down at around 70 to 75 percent liver functionality, so all the high blood pressure medicine I was having to take and all that stuff, which was so devastating. You know, one pill was for my liver and it was killing my kidneys, so they'd give me (unintelligible) ...
MARK...to kill my liver.
MARKGot all that straightened out, but all I'm on now is just water pills to keep fluid from building up and I'm back to my normal, healthy weight. Thank God for that.
REHMWell, I wish you good health. Thank you for sharing with us, Mark. Let's go now to Woods Hole, Mass. Good morning, Mark.
MARKGood morning, it's Mark II, I guess.
REHMMark II, quite right.
MARKThank you for taking my call.
MARKAnd I'm glad you had -- you have your guest on because I had the pleasure of meeting Buck Brannaman who was the technical director for "The Horse Whisperer" in the 1980s when I met him. And I'm wondering if your guest met him and any insights that he could share with us about his techniques and his communication abilities with horses.
EVANSWell, yes. Buck is a good friend. I met three -- I was just lucky to get put on the right trail. And I first met Tom Dorrance, who is one of many brothers who is the -- who died probably ten years ago, maybe a little more. And he was the master horseman and he taught a guy called Ray Hunt and Ray Hunt taught Buck. And I've seen Buck at work. I've been to his clinics and seen the most remarkable things. I mean, he's got a great, great gift, as all three of that particular line had.
EVANSAnd it's a -- I remember Tom Dorrance saying to me, and Buck would say the same, it's just that a lot of people look but don't see. And you've got to see beyond the pain and find the cause. And I've watched Buck watching a horse going around an arena and he can look at the gait of the horse and just know what's happened. He'll know some of the history. He's a remarkable guy. The trouble is, you know, a lot of these horses have got -- go back after they've been sorted out to the same owner and the same problem develops again. There's no such thing as a person with a horse problem. There are only horses with a people problems.
REHM(laugh) Do you think the same of dogs?
EVANSI think it's the same with us. I think it's the same with all creatures. I mean, I think if you try to train a crocodile, it would be quite difficult. And birds are pretty tricky.
EVANSAnd cats are quite tricky, too.
EVANSBut dogs, certainly and children, certainly. All of us. It's about making the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult.
REHMWhat about the acting in that movie?
EVANSThey were wonderful. Scarlet Johansson was stunning, I thought. And all of them, Kristin Scott Thomas -- they were wonderful.
REHMI'm glad you felt that way. We are talking with Nicholas Evans. His new book is titled "The Brave" and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Cincinnati, Ohio. Good morning, Robin.
ROBINGood morning. A question and a comment. Number one, I really enjoyed "The Horse Whisperer." It's one of my favorites as far as contemporary fiction goes and I'm looking forward to reading your new novel. I'm always on the look for a new -- a new work of fiction.
ROBINSecondly, I'm also glad to hear that you are recovering well. I work in healthcare in the U.S., so does my husband, and we actually lived in Great Britain in the early '80s and was able to take advantage of the British healthcare system and found that it was a very positive thing and I do wish that we had a public healthcare system in the U.S., but I think we need to be clear that it is paid for with taxpayer dollars as we saw when it came out of my husband's paycheck in Great Britain, so that the American people don't think that it's just free.
EVANSYeah, of course. That -- it has to be -- that has to be (unintelligible).
REHMIt has to be paid for somehow and...
ROBINExactly. But having worked in healthcare for the last 30 years, there is, even within this country, when these discussions come up, the issue that some people seem to feel that it should be a public -- you know, publicly funded, but they don't seem to understand that that money will have to come somewhere in that debate here in the U.S.
REHMOf course. I'm glad you called, Robin. Thank you. And let's go finally to David who's in Syracuse, N.Y. Good morning, you're on the air.
DAVIDOh, good morning. I just wanted to say there was a caller earlier who made what -- well, at least I believe, to be a factually incorrect statement. I am an archeologist and I've read archeological reports and books that do report that scalping was known and practiced by Native Americans before the European contacts some 500 years ago. Now, the meaning of scalping changed. It changed from being a religious ritual and part of the practice of being a warrior to most Native American people and became much more of a commercial transaction when there were bounties imposed by the colonial authorities, particularly this was very common in New York state during the revolution.
DAVIDThere was a British officer who was known as the hair buyer because he was paying for Indians to scalp, you know, Americans who were fighting against Britain. I think if we don't look at what we would now regard as good and bad that was practiced by all of our ancestors, European, Native American or whoever, we really deny them their humanity. And it's as much of a distortion to say that Native Americans didn't scalp before Europeans came as it is to show them as being bloodthirsty savages as they were, you know, shown in the movies some 50 plus years ago.
REHMDavid, thanks for your call. Any comment?
EVANSI -- that's the most interesting. You clearly know your stuff. Thank you.
REHMYou opened the book with a poem. Please read that for us.
EVANSThis is by an unpublished poet called Shane Van Klois (sp?). It's called "Men in White Hats." "The free have lost what mattered, the brave stay home in bed. The white hat now is spattered with the blood of needless dead. Our heroes all are banished, we rode them out of town. The valiant who vanished when the sun was going down."
REHMIt really does bring us full circle to the question of who are the brave. What is it that defines them?
EVANSWell, bravery means different things to different people.
EVANSAnd the motto of little Tommy's school is Semper Fortis, always be brave. Little boys get a different idea of bravery than -- we don't tell little girls to be brave, generally. And I think women, in this story anyway, are the brave ones. The mother is brave, Diane is brave. They see the bigger picture, women, generally.
REHMNicholas Evans and his new novel is titled, "The Brave." Congratulations.
EVANSThanks so much, Diane.
REHMWonderful, wonderful book. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.