Daniel Menaker. Alfred A. Knopf, $23 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-679-42206-8
Menaker's clever, very funny and surprisingly tender first novel is a triumphant satire of Freudianism gone amok, a touching love story and a quintessential picture of New York life. In the annals of intellectual urban existence at the end of the 20th century, 32-year-old Jake Singer's lonely, anxiety-filled daily routine qualifies as an existential hell. Just passed over as head of the English department at Coventry, a prestigious Manhattan prep school, estranged from his cold father, still subconsciously guilty about his mother's death when he was six, unable to connect emotionally with a woman, Jake is locked in combat with the devil in the form of psychiatrist Dr. Ernesto Morales. The black-bearded, Cuban-born, devoutly Catholic Morales has put his personal stamp on the psychoanalytic process that he calls ""the treatment"": he is aggressively confrontational, vociferously opinionated and invariably accusatory as he hectors Jake in hilariously accented, ""flamboyantly Spanished"" diatribes designed to keep his patient intimidated. Even when Jake is not being bullied by Morales in person, he hears the doctor's voice in his head, in tandem with his own typically sardonic replies. But Jake's life undergoes an astonishing transformation when he meets wealthy socialite widow Allegra Marshall at a Coventry fund-raiser, and the two--beautiful WASP and ""neurotic secular atheist Jew""--begin a passionate affair. Fate brings them into contact with a young woman living in the Berkshires (this gives Menaker another chance to depict the residents and terrain of his memorable collection of short stories, The Old Left). In a series of (perhaps too convenient) coincidences, Jake initiates acts of courage, reconciliation and healing, meanwhile achieving his own fulfillment. Menaker's supple command of language, his witty turns of phrase and riposte-sharpened dialogue are informed by an ironic eye, a wryly compassionate understanding of human frailties and a skeptical but also guardedly hopeful appraisal of the human condition. (June) FYI: Menaker, formerly a senior editor at the New Yorker, is a senior editor at Random House.
Reviewed on: 05/04/1998
Paperback - 269 pages - 978-0-671-03263-0
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-571-19717-0