A practicing psychologist puts himself on the couch.
In his witty debut, Tomasulo (Psychology/New Jersey City Univ.) examines episodes in his work and daily life that provoke jarring, sometimes humorous reminders of various childhood traumas. When a move to the Jersey shore prompts the purging of possessions, he comes across a box marked “Mom” and begins to reflect on his dead parents. An especially funny, discomfiting chapter describes the psychological warfare Mom and Dad waged with him one day at the amusement park when he wanted to give the timeless ping-pong ball “fish toss” a go. His mother was appalled at the thought of a “filthy” goldfish in the house, but his father cajoled her into acquiescence. “My parents were banking on me screwing up,” Tomasulo writes. “They’d let me throw the balls, miss, then go home without a fuss…My mother wouldn’t have to be the bad guy and my father would have given me the chance. It would all be on me.” (He won, and Mom flushed the goldfish down the toilet.) In grad school 25 years later, the author witnessed a scene at the beach in which those same no-win dynamics were inflicted on a young boy being used as a pawn in his mother’s battle with his grandmother. With characteristic candor and humor, Tomasulo writes, “So I’m on the beach, early in the morning, reading about family pathology when God figures it would be better for me to watch family pathology than read it…I finally recognized the family. It was mine.” Much of the memoir sets up similarly neat, reflective parallels: Judging by this account, reckoning with your own traumas comes easiest when encountering those of others.
Disquietingly funny, stuffed with entertaining details and penetrating insights.