A pointed exploration of family, childhood, and loss.
In her debut, Wheelis (Psychiatry/Harvard Medical School) conjures the lives of her parents and her experience as their daughter through a series of allusive and elusive vignettes. The author’s analysis of her girlhood memories reflects her background as a psychiatrist as well as the daughter of two prominent psychoanalysts, though her intent is not to put anyone on the couch. As “a devotee of the book Harriet the Spy,” the author “carried around a notebook and pencil to document my discoveries” about her parents, their practices (they both had offices in their San Francisco home), and their marriage. Wheelis offers little in the way of balance or comprehensiveness; she focuses primarily on her relationship with her father, the author of multiple books, who practiced nearly until his death in his early 90s. Later in life, writes Wheelis, her mother would “tease both my father and me…about an Oedipal bid for my father’s attention,” but the author doesn’t press this point, nor does she belabor the tension in the marriage, particularly on her mother’s part, when her father would retire to his office and close the door rather than keep them company. Of her own 20-year marriage, she writes succinctly, “six months after my father died, my husband left.” As she notes at the outset, “My parents are both dead, yet their lives are very much within me,” and it is their lives, and particularly her father’s life, as seen and understood from the perspective of their young daughter, that she shares with readers. Ultimately, this is more of a memoir about memory—its connections and deceptions—than about the author and her family in particular. It shows how the dead live on.
There’s a precision in the prose that the father would admire in his daughter.