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A kind of biblical sojourn among the very lost tribes of Harvard, as L’Heureux (The Handmaid of Desire, 1996, etc.) envisions the sorrows of Job being visited upon a righteous psychiatrist. Any story that begins with a testimonial dinner in honor of an ambitious man on the verge of achieving his life’s goal is almost guaranteed to be a rough ride. Philip Tate has had it pretty easy so far: he’s now a talented psychiatrist teaching at Harvard Medical School, but his career has been a steady incline from the day he entered college. He and his wife Maggie live in a tastefully done-up home in Cambridge and have two lovely, intelligent children: Cole (a medical student at Johns Hopkins) and Emma (a Berkeley coed doing archaeological research in Greece). Philip has just been informed that he’s to be awarded the Goldman Chair, which puts him on the short list of candidates being considered to succeed the outgoing Dean of the Medical School. But there are a few problems. For one thing, Maggie is a hopeless drunk. And Philip is a compulsive housebreaker, given to picking the locks of his friends” homes late at night just for the thrill of it. On one such expedition, he’s discovered by Dixie Kizer, also a drunk, who’s married to Hal Kizer, a colleague of Philip’s. In a clumsy attempt to explain himself, Philip ends up sleeping with Dixie. He tries to do the right thing, breaking off the affair at once and finding psychiatric help for her, but this only complicates matters further. Maggie returns to school and leaves Philip, Emma declares herself a lesbian, Cole starts an embarrassing affair of his own with Dixie, and Hal’s compulsion for S&M sex becomes ever more extreme. Philip is tapped as the new dean. Then all hell breaks loose . . . . Witty and interesting, but overdone even so: If L’Heureux was aiming at a David Lodge sort of thing, he missed, hitting a lot closer to Grace Metallious.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-87113-763-1
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1999


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