THE LISTENER by Allen Wheelis

THE LISTENER

A Psychoanalyst Examines His Life
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Now in his 80s, Wheelis offers a sometimes pungent memoir of his boyhood and later life. Though his mother lives to be nearly 100 and figures most prominently in this brief volume (Wheelis recycles some incidents from his earlier memoir, The Life and Death of My Mother, 1992), it’s his father, who died young, whose portrait emerges most strongly. A domineering man, Morris Wheelis ruled the household from his sickbed on the enclosed porch of the family home in San Antonio, Tex., where he spent years laid up with tuberculosis. In order to teach his young son a lesson in responsibility, one summer Mr. Wheelis made young Allen trim the lawn—blade by blade, on his hands and knees, with a hand-held razor, because the family was too poor to have a mower. It took him virtually an entire summer, a summer he longed to spend playing ball with his friends. It was one of Allen’s earliest lessons in longing—for it is longing that this psychoanalyst believes is at the core of our being, it is the “hidden reality.” Wheelis’s account of his early life is is peppered with viscerally felt scenes. But the account of his later life, of his second marriage (his first he passes over with a mere mention), of the impossibility of achieving a true union with his wife, of her pursuit of him and his efforts to escape into work, is inherently more diffuse and pale. He says of his wife, Ilse, “Herself a psychoanalyst, she had a gift for intimacy, and when the day’s work was done wanted only to be with me, while I, hurting still from an ancient wound, was driven to search for a meaning that would heal the wound. . . .” Still, the memoir ends on a note of affirmation of the centrality of love—but it lacks the emotional force of the earlier scenes of yearning.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-393-04783-0
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1999




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