“I feel like I just got a hundred grand worth of your therapy by osmosis,” said a friend who read my debut novel, Speed Shrinking. With therapists away in August, abandoned patients are freaking out. Yet in this lousy economy, there are cheaper ways to soothe your turbulent psyche than handing over your hard-won cash to an overpriced Jungian partying in Southampton. Here this longtime shrinkoholic and former book critic lists the best fiction filled with shrink wit and wisdom you can suck in for just the price of a paperback:
1. Fear of Flying by Erica Jong. There’s a reason 20 million copies are in print. Jong’s hilarious 1973 therapy, sex and feminist tour-de-force about hot, unhappily married 29-year-old poet Isadora Wing fantasizing her way through Freud’s Vienna will make you want to see a shrink, be a shrink, screw a shrink and screw over a shrink before you can say “zipless.”
2. Portnoy’s Complaint, by Philip Roth. Told as a monologue from patient Portnoy to Dr. Spielvogel, Roth’s 1969 laugh riot is his most popular book—except with his own tribe, who called him a self-hating Jew. It’ll remind you that your family’s ethnic insanity is actually normal. And you’ll never again say, “What am I, chopped liver?” without laughing (or puking, depending on your gross-out level). Book is way better than the film starring Richard Benjamin.
3. August by Judith Rossner. For a more serious chronicle of psychoanalysis, this 1983 bestseller could be subtitled “Looking for Dr. Goodbar.” Luckily 20-year-old New England client Dawn Henly finds her in a 40-year-old Manhattanite, Dr. Lulu Shinefield; their five years together make compelling reading. Okay, the names Dawn, Lulu and Shinefield are Dickensian, and I wouldn’t recommend the realistic, dialogue-heavy soft cover for the beach. Still, Rossner’s story is the real deal, and you’ll be thankful your background is nowhere near as insane as Dawn’s.
4. The Treatment by Daniel Menaker. Thirty-two-year-old Upper West Side wimpy teacher Jake Singer has a crazy Cuban Catholic head doctor, proving you don’t have to be a Jewish shrink to be meshuganah in this serio-comic Manhattan shrinkfest. Fascinatingly, Dr. Morales turns out to be dead-on about his patient’s need to grow balls. Bonus: rent the recent fun movie starring Ian Holm as the last foul-mouthed Freudian.
5. Therapy by David Lodge. One wouldn’t think a British satirist could do justice to psychoanalysis. But this 1995 satire charmingly chronicles the misadventures of 50ish sitcom writer Tubby Passmore, a successful, rich married dad in England addicted to everything from psycho- to aroma-therapy.
6. Genius by Jesse Kellerman. I don’t even like mysteries, but I couldn’t put down this tale by a shrink (married to a shrink!) depicting real crimes and not just imagined ones. In this quick, clever 2008 Queens-and-Chelsea-located whodunit about 33-year-old East Coast art dealer Ethan Muller, bodies get unburied faster than you can say unconscious wishes.
7. The Schopenhaur Cure by Irvin Yalom. Prolific psychiatrist-novelist Yalom nails his 2005 portrait of 65-year-old ailing West Coast psychiatrist Julius Hertzefeld, incorporating sex addiction, mentor/protégé connections and philosophy into this tale of two men’s search for meaning. Almost as good as his nonfiction best-seller Love’s Executioner.
8. Envy by Kathleen Harrison. The ick factor concerning creepy 47-year-old married male Park Slope psychoanalyst William Moreland in this 2005 beautifully written novel will make you happy you can’t afford therapy anyway.
Susan Shapiro (susanshapiro.net), a Manhattan writing teacher, is author of the novel Speed Shrinking.
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