FINE by Samuel Shem


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The transformation of an uptight, orthodox Freudian psychoanalyst into a more loving, giving, accepting therapist--in a long, erratic novel that slides from broad comedy to cartoon-melodrama (à la John Irving) to platitudinous uplift. Educated at Yale and Harvard, a late convert to psychoanalysis (""Sigmund Freud reared up and bit him in the ass""), chunky Dr. Fine is now a ""full-fledged psychiatrist'at 34--finished with his own analysis, seeing patients under Boston Institute supervision, working at a mental institution, and researching links between biology and psychology (The Fine Theory, which involves the constant popping of calcium pills). Fine is happy and proud, reveling in Freudian jargon, Institute politics, free-association: ""Helluva profession: seventy-five an hour to listen to a gorgeous blonde talk about sucking your Weimar--oops!--weiner'?"" But wife Stephanie, Fine's passion since age 17, is miserable--mourning Fine's loss of warmth and humor, repelled by his Freudian smugness, rediscovering her Self by becoming a standup comedian. . . . and by running off to Paris with the Fines' old Harvard pal, actor John O'Day. So Fine, after considering both adultery with a colleague ("" 'I'm really cathected to you,' Georgina said"") and a second analysis, has an epileptic seizure instead--from which he magically emerges a totally different person! Fine, you see, has now ""become hod?: concupiscent, phallic, free,"" an embodiment of touchy-feely psychobabble; he repudiates the Ocdipus complex, orgies with teenagers, surrenders to eating as welt as ""sucking and cursing and fucking."" But this extreme also palls, of course. And so, while the plot lurches into some nonsense involving a psycho (one of Fine's patients) who murders shrinks and kidnaps John O'Day's small son, Fine discovers a ""new sense of letting go of self"": he's now ""beginning to let go of his baggage, let go of I am this or I am that, I am a doc or I am a Jew or I am a spouse""--all of which leads him to embrace an eclectic, open-hearted, empathic approach to psychotherapy. Shem (pseudonym of a Boston psychiatrist) does fairly well with the dense, noisy Freudian/Jewish satire here--even if it's all been done before, and better, by Woody Allen et al. The attempt at wacky yet weepy tragicomedy falls completely flat, however. And Shem's central notion--the bleak from strict Freudian procedure--seems awfully dated and naive: the analyst in Judith Rossner's August, for example, was, with no particular hoopla, a flexible Freudian who felt free to depart from the orthodox rules. Sporadic, chaotic entertainment for those who are somewhat sophisticated (but not too sophisticated) about psychoanalysis--without the wider, medical-doctor appeal of Shem's The House of God.

Pub Date: Feb. 11th, 1984
Publisher: St. Martin's