by Peter Whitmer ‧ RELEASE DATE: Aug. 16, 1996
A depressing pathography positing that every instant of Elvis's life was warped by the stillbirth of his twin brother, Jesse, and the consequent morbidly close relationship between Elvis and his mother, Gladys. Psychologist Whitmer (When the Going Gets Weird: The Twisted Life and Times of Hunter S. Thompson, 1993, etc.) says that ""twinless twins"" feel driven to prove their uniqueness, but after attaining recognition they feel survivor guilt. They also have a pathologically strong maternal bond; Whitmer asserts that Elvis was ""clearly"" a victim of ""lethal enmeshment,"" or ""nonsexual incest."" Source notes, which might provide clinical authority for all of this, were not available for review; but Phyllis Diller offers her expert theory that ""if his twin had lived, I am sure that Elvis's twin would have been gay."" Up to a point, Whitmer's theories have some merit, but the book goes overboard in reducing Elvis's musical accomplishments to the side effect of a near-crippling neurosis. The sinister tone of unrelenting torment--even Elvis's devious manager, Col. Tom Parker, is said to operate out of a ""pit of fear""--owes much to John Bradshaw's brand of character analysis, in which no tic is too minor to be a symptom of incest. Considering that he was insulated from the world and insistently hungry for food, drugs, sex, and the company of his Memphis Mafia during the 1960s and '70s, Elvis's psychopathology is a significant issue, but the reduction of all these needs to the Jesse/Gladys/Elvis nexus seems facile. And while Whitmer attempts to portray the social, familial, musical, and cultural context from which Elvis emerged, this material was handled much more sensitively and informatively in Peter Guralnick's thrilling study, Last Train to Memphis (1994). Marred by many errors and doggedly intent on turning Elvis into a traumatized pop-psych poster boy, Whitmer's version of the life makes for unpleasant reading.
Pub Date: Aug. 16, 1996
Page Count: 448
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1996
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