For 33 years of married life Houdini's wife Bess was obliged to wash his ears everyday "". . .because he had never learned to do so. . . ."" That the great escape artist (he sneered at mere conjurers) was an oedipal wreck we learned from Doctorow's Ragtime. But Bess asserts that he was ""the most helpless man in the world."" Indeed he even kept her pretty much in a doll's house with real dolls, pets, birds, and so on. To Dr. Meyer, Houdini's life and career were one long continuing reenactment of a few basic themes: parricide, birth, death, and resurrection--""allegorical charades"" in a Family Romance. The emotional response of an audience as his time ran out on a dangerous trick and suffocation seemed certain (only then did he appear) became an ""unbearable tension giving way to heaven-sent reassurance."" After his mother's death Houdini pursued her into the spirit-world through the mediumship of Lady Doyle (Sir Arthur Conan D.'s wife); six months after receiving messages, he denounced the Doyles and Lady D.'s automatic writing. Still unsure, he made a pact with his wife that he would communicate a secret word to her (""Forgive!"") after his death. The word leaked out too soon and the test was invalid. Not a biography but a case study, this presents Houdini as an egomaniacal claustrophobe--a convincing assessment but hardly air-tight.