Dr. Neruda's Cure for Evil

Rafael Yglesias, Author Warner Books $24.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-446-52005-8
Yglesias (Fearless; Only Children) shows great respect for the attention span of readers in an ambitious therapeutic morality tale that explores the banality of evil. In the first of the book's three sections, the narrator, psychiatrist Dr. Rafael Neruda, traces his childhood from happiness through trauma to rebirth via therapy. Yglesias does an expert turn on Neruda's disintegrating relationship with his charismatic Cuban father and his Jewish mother, who descends into insanity and incestuous abuse. (Yglesias's choice of his protagonist's given name and his parents' ethnic origins is provocative in light of his own parentage.) The second part is a case history of Gene Kenny, a patient of Neruda's, who has also suffered childhood abuse. Over the course of several years--and several hundred pages--of careful and inspired talk therapy, Neruda manages to cure Kenny of his basic neuroses. Then, in accordance with the novel's central philosophical argument, Neruda discovers that these neuroses are part of the basic equipment of life. Kenny's ""cure,"" it turns out, has in fact hobbled him--so much so that he commits a terrible crime. Then, in the novel's third section, Neruda steps out of the protective bubble of the analytic hour and into the rubble of Kenny's life in order to discover what he did wrong and to try to make it right. Becoming a participant rather than a clinician, Neruda insinuates himself into the high-tech firm where Kenny worked. There, he discovers that the sadistically manipulative CEO and his femme fatale daughter are playing out their own incestuous psychodrama on each other and on any one who gets in their path, including Neruda. He also discovers that they're perfectly happy--that, although they are textbook cases of psychological infirmity, they are, in fact, superbly functional. In short, they're evil. But Neruda insists on seeing this in medical rather than moral terms. Whether this approach is viable provides the novel with its suspense--a suspense that is more conceptual than plot-driven. Yglesias renders his characters with remarkably exhaustive psychological depth. But it comes at a price. For all the clinical persuasiveness of the characterization, there's not a lot of drama. This, combined with prose that is merely functional, renders the novel, despite its significant intelligence and ambition, a long haul more satisfying in theory than in practice. Major ad/promo; film rights to 20th Century Fox. (July)
Reviewed on: 07/01/1996
Release date: 07/01/1996
Genre: Fiction
Ebook - 700 pages - 978-1-4532-0660-7
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-7871-1078-9
Paperback - 704 pages - 978-0-446-67332-7
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