The Sum of His Syndromes

Oregon Book Award Finalist

Enigmatic…Addictive…With passages that are so well turned they can be called lyrical—and others that are laugh out loud funny.” – A.M. Homes

Syndromes is funny; it’s insightful; it’s gonzoWillamette Week

Dixon effortlessly captures what it’s like to be human in a relatively uncaring world, but the beauty of the book is in the fact that he makes you laugh while doing so.”  Katherine Weikert, The Lit Mob

“A quirky book that I absolutely loved. I’d like to quote at least half of it.” Nancy Horner, Bookfoolery

Excerpts from The Sum of His Syndromes:


It’s 8:45 a.m. and I have locked myself in the third stall of the sixth-floor men’s room—the one nearest the wall. I am sitting exactly where you would expect me to be sitting, scribbling away in a buff-colored steno pad stolen specifically for the occasion. I’ve been spending more and more time in here lately because I can’t keep spending it out there. Out there it’s telephones and computers and all sorts of people with problems, people who want to interrupt what you are doing (or not doing), people who want to talk to you, people who want to tell you things you’re not interested in hearing. People like Robert Bray, for example, who knows everything there is to know about the downtown condo market, and Lucy McAllister, who seems to think your life would be improved if you knew more guys named Cooter.


Had an interesting session with Dr. Costa yesterday. He wanted to focus on the negative feelings I seem to have toward Mrs. Dorton, the evil manageress of my apartment building. I told him my negative feelings for her were mostly in response to her negative feelings toward me, but, as always, he seems reluctant to accept what I am telling him as true.

He has an interesting theory. He thinks I have focused my attention on her as a way of not focusing it on myself, that my unhappiness with my unhappiness is driving me to see her as some sort of persecutor when, in fact, it’s just me trying to avoid admitting things to myself—namely, that I have an inclination to romanticize what (for want of a less loaded word) we have tentatively agreed to call my “depression” and that this inclination is predicated on a quaint eighteenth-century belief in the sanctity of a certain sort of suffering.

A wiry, wedge-headed guy in his middle 40s, Dr. C looks like he could be, is, or has been at one time, a runner. He is the third guy I’ve seen in the last three years. Calm, quiet, quick to write prescriptions—I can’t help feeling he is dangerous.


Dean Freeze was just in here working on his teeth. He was flossing, brushing, mouth-washing. There is a scrupulousness about him that is sort of mesmerizing. He never seems to have a hair out of place. It just doesn’t seem possible that a person could be that clean and spotless.


There is a rumor floating around that Cathy Manning’s daughter attacked a neighbor kid with a bat.


I have a strong feeling that Kate doesn’t really want to meet Peter. She has heard things about him—about the extremity of his personality—and he doesn’t sound to her like someone she would like very much, which worries her. It worries her because she knows how much I like him, and she has no idea what her not liking him might mean for us. We were cubicle mates, Peter and I, for three years—until he inherited some walking-away money from a dying grandmother.

I think Kate is also worried about the way she might not like Peter. She is not the sort of person who would think more of someone because of someone they knew, but she is the sort who might think less. At this point in our relationship she seems to want to think as much of me as she can, and she is afraid Peter might interfere with this. That I’m the sort of person who would know someone like him might end up being a hurdle too high to get over. It would mean something—exactly what, at this moment anyway, is a mystery.


I’m not as interested as I should be in wanting to make an impression on Dr. C. So far he doesn’t seem to have noticed this because he’s been busy trying to make an impression on me. He wants me to find him even-tempered and caring. Once I do that, we can begin our work in earnest.


Paul Burkholder is just back from his vacation. He spent a month walking across Montana. He’s been regaling us with stories that are basically about what a brave and adventurous guy he is. Everyone he ran into along the way seems to have been amazed that he was doing what he was doing.


Excerpt from a conversation between Bruce Howland and Ryan Brown:

“It doesn’t seem like I’m laughing as much as I used to. It’s not like I’m getting serious; I just don’t seem to know what’s funny anymore.”

“You might try looking at your tie.”


Had a long lunchtime conversation with Peter about Jennifer Rasmussen, a girl who used to work here. He got an email from her catching him up on things—trips to the beach, barbecues, visits to the butterfly exhibition at the zoo—and he was in a flap trying to decide if he should send her a copy of Cubicle Dreams, a collection of short stories he had just finished publishing. On one hand he wanted to send her a copy because she was in school now and surrounded (presumably) by people who read, and he was hoping she might feel inclined to encourage a few of them to buy it; on the other, he was reluctant because of a passage in one of the stories in which he said something not especially nice about her.

The story in question—a fragmented, not particularly successful look at a week in the life of an office drudge he calls Daniel—is clearly autobiographical. The offending passage involved a description of this Daniel’s reaction to his new officemate, a guy named Gary. He describes Gary as being inherently more entertaining, thoughtful, and interested in things than the officemate just departed—someone who, in spite of having her name and hair color changed and being sent to nursing rather than dental school, was still pretty clearly Jennifer. Peter could imagine her reading the section and feeling betrayed or hurt, and he didn’t want that. He knew the chances of her finding the paragraph were small because even though she read, she did not as a rule read the sort of stuff he wrote, and the passage at issue—the not-as-entertaining, thoughtful, or interested passage—was about a third of the way into the book, behind the infamously alienating story number 5. If she did actually start the book, it wasn’t likely she would get to the scene of the crime. But still .…


Dr. C says I’m a fine person and it’s his job to make me realize that. I’ve tried to make it clear to him that I’m not one of those patients who insist on his opinions being favorable or his forecasts optimistic.

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