Soulbearing memoirs of a woman ``born and brought up to be in psychoanalysis,'' who discovers rather late in life that writing fiction has taught her more about herself than years of psychotherapy.
Webster (Sins of the Mother, 1993; Paradise Farm, 1999) was born in New York in the 1930s into a family of wealthy nonobservant Jews—her mother an abstract painter and disciple of Ashile Gorky and her father an entertainment lawyer—and grew up in a segment of New York society immersed in the culture of psychiatry. ``It became, in effect, our family faith,'' she writes, noting that her anxious, temperamental mother was in therapy with a Freudian analyst five days a week for 30 years. At 14, Webster had her own therapist. Her portrait of her eccentric mother is compelling, as is her description of her own therapyridden adolescence. Encouraged by her first analyst to express her sexuality, she became pregnant while at Swarthmore, but her mother, seemingly nonplused, swiftly arranged for an abortion. Shortly thereafter, Webster moved back home and acquired a new therapist, the famous Kurt Eissler (founder of the Freud Archives). His views were, in Webster's words, ``archaic, patriarchal, and above all unrealistic.'' When she entered graduate school at Berkeley, another Freudian, Anna Maenchen, took over. Although Maenchen was apparently indifferent to Webster's unhappiness in her subsequent marriage, the author, by now emotionally dependent on her therapist, repeatedly turned to her over the years for help. Eventually Webster, whose writing had until then been psychoanalyses of literary texts, divorced her husband, found a new love, and took up a new line of work—writing fiction. Now, seemingly at peace with herself and bearing no resentment toward the quixotic, sometimes suicidal, very unmotherly mother whose faith in Freudian psychiatry shaped both their lives, she concludes, ``The great thing about being human is that you can recreate yourself, not by analyzing but by active imagining. A difficult family isn't fate.''
A fresh take on the poorlittlerichgirl theme, whinefree and surprisingly frank. (16 b&w photos)