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Titel: The Treatment
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Abandoned by his girlfriend, Jake Singer, a young English teacher at a prestigious New York prep school, wallows in a morass of personal despair and professional mediocrity, until he embarks on a course of psychoanalysis and meets socialite-widow Allegra Marshall. A first novel. Reprint.Review:
At 32, Jake Singer is trapped inside not only his own thoughts but also those of his antic, hectoring psychiatrist, a "madman privateer for whom conservative Freudianism was merely a flag of convenience." In between his triweekly skirmishes with the malaprop-slinging Dr. Morales, Jake does manage to carry on: he teaches at Coventry, a New York City private school, and has a small trust fund and an adequate Upper West Side apartment. Yet the protagonist of Daniel Menaker's first novel is increasingly alone. He hasn't seen his doctor father in four years, his mother died when he was six, and his most recent girlfriend left him. "I wasn't so crazy that I didn't know how boring my plight would be to most people," he later realizes. "Even the banality of evil is outstripped by the banality of anxiety neurosis." In fact, there's nothing remotely banal about Jake's anxiety, which Menaker makes both very real and very, very funny.
Though Dr. Morales is dead-on about his patient's inertia, his antic method gives the term critical care (not to mention shrink wrap) new meaning. Indeed, Jake and his doctor's hostilities are both hilarious and deeply painful, skidding between progress and "emotional vivisection." Is the foul-mouthed, foul-minded Morales a sport of psychiatric nature, or is he on the right track? Neither patient nor reader will ever be quite sure, though Jake does come out of his long slump, inheriting the responsibility for his own life--and those of several others.
The Treatment ruffles with comic energy and risky shifts, but also with something increasingly rare in fiction--tenderness. Menaker, unlike his protagonist, seems unafraid of emotion and has a perfect ear for the momentary exchange that simultaneously reveals and conceals all. He can also dish up epigrams with the best of them. Jake turns Wallace Stevens's hieratic pronunciamento into a surprising home truth: "If death is in fact the mother of beauty, she never spends any time with her kids." Any reader interested in the fresh pleasures of language, character, and sharp social landscaping should look no further. The Treatment is both a merry novel about loss and a melancholy fiction about the pleasures of intimacy--sexual, familial, and, of course, therapeutic.
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