Portentously taking its section epigraphs from Calderón de la Barca and Dante, Dorfman's latest novel is a slender allegory based on nothing less than the conditions of reality in contemporary capitalist culture. Graham Blake is the owner of Clean Earth, a company that manufactures health foods and nutritional supplements. His ex-wife, Jessica Owens, is a brilliant bio-engineer who has invented many of the pills Clean Earth sells. Blake is at a particularly difficult point in his career. The company is threatened with a takeover by a villainous tycoon, Hank Granger, and the board wants Blake to close down a factory in Philadelphia. To cope with his stress, he puts himself in the hands of Dr. Carl Tolgate, whose psychotherapy owes more to The Truman Show than to Freud. Tolgate arranges things so Blake is able to spy on and covertly control a family that works at his Philadelphia factory. Blake falls in love with the daughter, Roxanna, but his interventions eventually drive her to attempt suicide. In the nick of time, he pierces the barrier between surveillance and real life, only to discover that Roxanna and her family are actors hired by Tolgate. Blake's reaction is to try to find the real family upon which Roxanna's fake family is based. Dorfman's larger point is that compassion subordinated to the drive for maximizing profit is a neutered virtue, but it's a point better conveyed in an essay. Dorfman's characters are wooden, his story veers laughably between cliché and implausibility, and his insights into the psychological motivations of CEOs are dubious at best. (May 8)
Forecast:Always juggling literary, political and cultural issues—he is perhaps best known for How to Read Donald Duck, a defiant political satire—Dorfman fumbles here. Those loyal to the causes he espouses will attend readings on his nine-city author tour, but negative reviews will discourage the general reading public. Spanish edition published simultaneously by Seven Stories.