Wiley Cash’s Discussion Guide

  1. What was your opinion of the legal defense “not guilty by reason of insanity” before reading The Other Dr. Gilmer? After reading the book, assess your opinion again. If it’s different, ask yourself why.
  2. When I teach creative writing I tell my students that what they put on the page offers the reader a set of expectations. Consider the opening line of The Other Dr. Gilmer: On June 28, 2004, in rural Appalachia, a man with my name and my profession strangled his father in the passenger seat of his Toyota Tacoma. After reading the opening line, what were your expectations for this book?
  3. Benjamin Gilmer writes a lot about rural communities in the United States and abroad and how they are distinctly          different, both in their needs and in the appropriation of state and federal resources, from urban communities. If you live in rural America, do you agree with his portrayal of rural communities? If you live in urban America, do you feel like you learned anything new about your rural neighbors?
  4. When he first begins his work at the clinic in Cane Creek, Benjamin Gilmer is worried about being perceived as an outsider. Is there a possibility that his “outsider” status allowed him to see things – including the case of Dr. Vince Gilmer – with fresh eyes?
  5. How did you feel when Benjamin Gilmer recalls his existential anxiety as his fears of Dr. Vince Gilmer are compounded by rumors and the practical joke played on him by the staff at the clinic’s holiday party? Did you see his fear as paranoid or well-founded? Can you imagine yourself in his situation?
  6. In a nod to Asheville’s local color, Benjamin Gilmer writes about visiting the Asheville farmers market with his family, where they purchase their week’s produce and people-watch. Where is the best place to people-watch in your area, whether you’re in Asheville or somewhere else? What can you learn at this location about the diversity and interests of your fellow citizens?
  7. You might have recognized Sarah Koenig’s name as well as the radio show This American Life when they are mentioned in the book. Koenig went on to produce and serve as the host of Serial, the first season of which focused on the murder of Hae Min Lee and the conviction and imprisonment of Adnan Syed. Serial marked an explosion in America’s interest in true crime. What is your opinion of this shift in popular culture from viewing violent crime as tragedy to viewing violent crime as a form of entertainment? (Make sure to join us in-person or virtually for the February 20 lecture by Dr. Laura Meadows, who will consider our strange national obsession with true crime in her presentation “How to Get Away with (Writing About) Murder.” Find out more here.)
  8. It seems that the more Benjamin Gilmer learns about the murder committed by Dr. Vince Gilmer the less he is actually afraid of him. One would think that the more that is known about a murderer the scarier that person would be, but is it possible that in taking an active role in knowing the truth about the murder, Benjamin Gilmer was able to exorcise his fear?
  9. From the moment of his arrest, and even weeks before, Dr. Vince Gilmer showed alarming signs of mental impairment. During his trial, he even frequently requested psychiatric observation and to be placed under a doctor’s care, requests that went unmet. He was also denied access to medication. Despite all of this he was allowed to represent himself in his murder trial with obvious catastrophic results for his defense. In the book, Benjamin Gilmer argues that our judicial system is broken. Would you agree or not? (Make sure to join us in-person or virtually for the March 15 lecture by Dr. Laura Jones, who will consider the role of mental health in America’s judicial system. Find out more here.)
  10. I was struck by how honest Benjamin Gilmer was with the reader about his struggles to balance his personal life with his work life while fighting for Dr. Vince Gilmer to receive adequate medical care. Did you find Benjamin Gilmer’s honesty refreshing, or did you grow frustrated with the author for taking on too many roles – father, husband, physician, advocate, patient – at once?
  11. At various points in the book, the story twists and contorts into different genres, including a criminal investigation, a legal thriller, a medical exposé, and a political treatise, all while remaining compulsively readable. Were you aware of these shifts in genre? If so, were there parts of the book that you found more enjoyable or informative than others?
  12. Benjamin Gilmer argues that perhaps if law enforcement officers were offered training on how to help individuals in the midst of mental health crises there would be fewer mentally ill people in the criminal justice system. Do you agree? What steps could citizens take in working to ensure this happens. (Check out the material provided by Professor Blu Buchanan for guidance and ideas on how to assist individuals experiencing mental crises without first contacting law enforcement. Find out more here.)
  13. Christine Montross informs Benjamin Gilmer that there are ten times more seriously mentally ill people in our nation’s prisons than in its mental institutions. At one point in the book, Benjamin Gilmer argues that all patients, whether guilty of crimes or not, must be treated like patients. He writes, “That means that first, we have to do no harm.” How do you respond to the possibility that treating an individual suspect’s mental illness might allow them to enter an institution instead of prison after being found guilty of a crime?
  14. Benjamin Gilmer makes profound connections between for-profit medicine, where levels of care are inextricably tied to personal wealth, and the American legal system, where wealth and access to power ensure a better defense for the accused. Are there other connections to be made between equitable access to healthcare and representation in the legal system in the United States?
  15. After finishing The Other Dr. Gilmer conduct your own research into the ongoing legal fight on behalf of Dr. Vince Gilmer. Are you surprised by the story’s twists and turns? What kind of conclusion to this story would satisfy you as a reader? As a citizen?