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by Donald Antrim

Pub Date: Feb. 18th, 2000
ISBN: 0-375-40822-3
Publisher: Knopf

Antrim’s novels (The Hundred Brothers, 1997, etc.) are so hilariously inventive, so audacious, and so full of a unique blend of ideas and pratfalls that it’s hard to find another contemporary writer to compare him to: Pynchon on lithium? Barthelme on laughing gas? Tom, a psychoanalyst from the prestigious Krakower Institute, decides to gather his other teaching colleagues together for a series of informal suppers to share experiences, gossip, and of course new ideas about “the seemingly endless task of reconciling classical metapsychology to our particular branch of Self/Other Friction Theory.” And what less threatening and more informal venue could he choose than the “Pancake House & Bar”? Among Tom’s colleagues are Manuel Escobar, a suave “Kleinian” therapist who may be suffering from ethical vagueness; the bumptious, uncouth Richard Bernhardt, a group counselor and Tom’s enemy; and the warmly supportive Maria. Matters turn strange when Tom, in an attempt to lighten everyone’s mood, decides to instigate a food fight with a nearby table of prissy child psychologists. The disapproving Bernhardt locks him in a bear hug—and somehow thrusts him into an out-of-body experience. For the rest of the night a part of Tom’s consciousness hovers near the ceiling of the pancake house, watching and commenting on the increasingly acrimonious and libidinous pursuits below. The conversations of Tom’s colleagues are rendered in a pitch-perfect parody of psychoanalytic groupspeak, while contrasting nicely with the heated debates over theory and practice are all-too-fleshly appetites and resentments. As matters deteriorate, the situation becomes more and more absurdly hilarious; no one writes better slapstick than Antrim. Tom’s fate is both inevitable and moving. A hilarious send-up of psychoanalysis and a deeply original meditation on the nature of identity. Antrim’s distinctive, high-octane comedy of ideas may prove dizzying for some. Those who persevere will find themselves, like Tom, seeing matters in a distinctly new way.