cover image Everybody: A Book About Freedom

Everybody: A Book About Freedom

Olivia Laing. Norton, $26.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-393-60877-9

Novelist and critic Laing (Crudo) places the life and legacy of psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich (1897–1957) at the center of this impassioned and provocative study of “the vexed relationship between bodies and freedom.” Laing highlights Reich’s development of body-based psychotherapy to help patients release their emotional pain, and his conflicts with Sigmund Freud, an early mentor, over the inhibition of sexual desire (Freud thought sex was “an unruly, dangerous force”; Reich believed it to be “the foundation of emotional health”). She also delves into Reich’s efforts to “fuse” psychotherapy and Marxism and his criminal prosecution for claiming that he could cure cancer by harnessing a tangible “life force” he called orgone. Along the way, Laing folds in reflections on her own experiences undergoing Reich’s bodywork therapy and her reaction, as the child of a “bona fide lesbian household,” to the passage of a 1988 law banning positive discussions of homosexuality in U.K. schools. Detours into the lives of Christopher Isherwood, Andrea Dworkin, Susan Sontag, and Nina Simone illuminate the influence of Reich’s theories, which Laing boils down to two “durable truths”: human bodies carry personal and inherited trauma, and people are “porous and capable of mysterious effects on each other’s lives.” This lucid foray into some of life’s deepest questions astonishes. (May)