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America’s cult of psychotherapy combines with its cult of celebrity to create a monster in this amusing if heavy-handed satire.

Portland counselor Carole Porter earns her living from neurotic women seeking explanations for their feelings of dissatisfaction and emptiness. She has plenty to offer from the spectrum of American therapeutic quackery. Working with a symptomology checklist that “ ‘nearly diagnoses all living creatures as sex abuse victims,’ ” she helps them recover repressed memories of past lives, childhood incest, Satanic ritual abuse and UFO abductions. Teaming up with Barnum-esque huckster Bill Howard to produce a psychotherapy reality show, she finds a star patient in Meme Lamb, a narcissistic trust-fund brat and failed actress who is never happier than when threatening suicide or scoring crystal meth. Under Carole’s treatment, Meme becomes “ ‘the greatest victim in the universe,’ ” as she elaborates for home viewers a lurid backstory in which she was sexually molested by both her father and the Pope; gave birth at age eight to two infants who were slaughtered at a black mass; and has hundreds of multiple personalities, including those of Anne Frank, Chief Joseph and a Russian whore. Her revelations yield huge ratings and the arrest of her father; meanwhile, her skeptical boyfriend has his apartment lined with hidden cameras and microphones and discovers that all telephone numbers now connect to Bill Howard’s operators. Debut novelist Buck isn’t afraid to use a sledgehammer to drive home his satirical points. Does psychotherapy infantilize women? You bet–just look at Meme playing with stuffed animals and wearing a diaper! And many of these themes feel a tad dated: child-molestation witch-hunts; media theorists’ panic that reality will be replaced by telegenic hyper-reality. Still, Buck has a vigorous comic imagination and a biting wit, especially when he treats his characters as people instead of cartoon figures.

An over-the-top but funny attack on some meaty targets.

Pub Date: March 3rd, 2005
ISBN: 0-595-33427-X
Program: Kirkus Indie
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