Lackluster memoir in which psychiatrist Rako is forthcoming about her 1940s and ’50s childhood but strangely reticent when discussing her marriages and career.
Rako, in private practice in Newton, Mass., grew up in Worcester, surrounded by an extended family dominated by her Russian-Jewish grandmother. Her account of those years—the colorful aunts and uncles, the hovering mother and largely absent father—is often rich in detail. She skims over her education and, with the exception of an account of her decision to end an unwanted pregnancy, reveals very little about her life during her two failed marriages. She opens up more when discussing her psychiatric training. Her residency at Massachusetts Mental Health Center was under the direction of Dr. Elvin Semrad, for whom she professes her admiration and describes his lasting influence on her professional thinking. She provides a few stories about her patients, but the focus is on the introspective psychiatrist’s lifelong attempts to understand herself. To that end, after completing eight years of medical and psychiatric training, she undergoes analysis with an analyst whose own analyst had been analyzed by Freud. It is not Freud, however, but Semrad who casts a long shadow here. Rako repeatedly quotes her mentor, finding his perceptions especially relevant to both her work as a psychiatrist and to her personal life—e.g., “There are only a few choices in life: to kill yourself, go crazy, or learn to learn to live with what you have in life.” This memoir switches back and forth between past and present tense, as though certain portions were written at one time and then spliced into a background narrative that had been sketched out earlier. As a consequence, the reader is uncertain whether the feelings and thoughts being expressed at various points are those of a more mature Rako or of an earlier self.
A mildly entertaining disappointment.