On the Couch: Great American Stories about Therapy

Erica Kates, Editor
Erica Kates, Editor Atlantic Monthly Press $23 (224p) ISBN 978-0-87113-662-6
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
Paperback - 188 pages - 978-0-87113-740-1
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As Kates suggests in her introduction, psychotherapy is credited by some with profound curative powers and assailed by others as navel-gazing quackery. The 19 stories in this well-chosen collection observe the conventions of actual therapy, and, as in real life, each one ""is concerned in some way with love and the difficulty of either attaining it or holding on to it."" They reflect a spectrum of opinions on the discipline, exploring it with viewpoints and concerns as diverse as the gallery of writers who voice them. The all-star lineup includes Lorrie Moore, John Updike, Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Stephen McCauley, Peter Collier, Donald Barthelme, Francine Prose, Charles Baxter, Frank Conroy and Daniel Menaker. To impose some thematic coherence, Kates has grouped the stories into five sections (""Loss,"" ""Secrets and Lies,"" ""Power and Dependence,"" ""Limitations"" and ""Love""), prefacing each with a brief discussion of relevant issues like transference, the abuses and limitations of a therapist's power and the factors that go into good therapy. But this volume is no academic treatise: each of the stories, all reprints, is above all a gripping literary experience. Some, like Steven Barthelme's bleak, creepy ""Samaritan,"" which describes a pill-popping, sexually predatory therapist's mounting irritation with his mildly depressed client, are studies in alienation. Others, like Amy Bloom's charming ""Psychoanalysis Changed My Life,"" are modern-day fairy tales. Together, along with the discerning afterword by Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Sheldon Roth, they add up to a literary session that offers insight and entertainment--and that needn't stop after 50 minutes, either. (Jan.)
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