GROUP THERAPY by Shelby Hearon


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In Afternoon of a Faun (1983) Hearon circled around some pivotal parent/child disillusionments--and here there are some further excursions within the downstage heat of lovers' hurtful feints and thrusts. Lutie Sayre, recently divorced from sour Dabney, is about to leave her native Texas and ""Redoaks""--the home Mother expected her to keep up--to teach in the East. . . while Cousin Nan will be custodian of Redoaks. (Nan and Lutie were raised as two sisters by widowed Aunt Caroline and divorced Mother: Lutie remembers two little ""paper children"" of tall, regal women whose ""bearing conveyed presence."") So now Lutie--decorous, timid, careful--is confronted by the often-terrifying ways of the East, taking on bit by bit everything new and strange in Westchester and the wilderness of Manhattan. She locates a dressmaker to construct correct clothes, thoughtfully arranges her small apartment, examines the terrain. (""You'd domesticate Hell itself,"" Dabney once said.) And Lutie finds group therapy particularly brand new--especially with the courting motions of Dr. Joe Davidson, who conducts ""Image therapy,"" a kind of role-playing through the use of costume. Soon, then, Lutie will be sleeping with Joe, who's separated from his wife and the father of two unattractive teenage boys: Joe helps Lutie locate her ego and sexuality, while Lutie uses some X-ray vision on the stumbling muddle of Joe's familial relationships. But trouble comes when Lutie finds she can't tune out all the little affections and pleasures of the world just for Joe: ""everything matters between you and the one you're having sex with."" Furthermore, the Joe relationship leads Lutie to reappraise the folks back home: Nan's placid, fat-rumped brothers; the chill winds emanating from Dabney; Aunt Caroline's greedy social-crawling--not to mention the shocking truth about Uncle Elbert's death in Savannah. And finally, after some awakenings about givers and takers during a Texas return-visit, Lutie looks in on the gentle father she'd never seen and returns East to Joe. . . who has some learning of his own to do. Amusing views of US cultural divides--starring an endearing Lutie, an innocent who wises up.

Pub Date: March 28th, 1984
Publisher: Atheneum