cover image By Blood

By Blood

Ellen Ullman. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (384p) ISBN 978-0-374-11755-9

Set in a politically roiling mid-1970s San Francisco, Ullman’s third novel (after The Bug) is a psychological thriller probing an uneasy, unwitting three-way relationship between a young lesbian, her German-born psychologist, and a voyeuristic academic. A disgraced 50-something classics professor, forced on academic leave pending an ethics investigation, rents office space next door to Dr. Dora Schussler, the daughter of a prominent Nazi, and finds himself entranced by her interactions with her patient, a lesbian economist in her 30s trying to make sense of her own adoption. The academic feels for the young woman, reflecting his own sense of not fitting in (an obsessive-compulsive, he has his own long history of analysis), and begins organizing his life around the patient’s visits, in time becoming convinced that Dr. Shussler is impeding her patient’s search. His empathy spurs him to research the patient’s adoption himself, after which he clandestinely sends her reports, leading them all through the harrowing melodrama of a German woman caught in the Holocaust before making her way to Israel. Though this is an irresistible Hitchcockian page-turner, brooding and solipsistic, it lands too softly and feels unfinished, considering Dr. Schussler’s inflammatory but untouched past. Agent: Jay Mandel, WME Entertainment. (Mar.)