“There's more to life than just books, you know. But not much more...” - The Smiths
Friday, February 11, 2011
Awful, Awful Books Part II
Like The Alienist and The List of 7, The Interpretation of Murder takes a famous personage and plops him into the centre of a gruesome murder mystery for our enjoyment. Sadly, it just doesn't work this time. Sigmund Freud, while on his famous first-and-only trip to America, is pulled into a series of crimes involving New York society girls. He assigns the fictional protagonist, Dr. Stratham Younger, to psychoanalyze a victim whose hysterical amnesia hides the identity of a killer. Meanwhile, Freud's disciples gossip and bicker among themselves like PMSing schoolgirls.
The most serious flaw in The Interpretation of Murder is that Jed Rubenfeld makes his admiration of Freud and his hatred of Jung painfully obvious. The Jung of this novel is borderline insane; sexually insatiable, erratic, duplicitous, sadistic, joyless, perhaps delusional. Freud, on the other hand, is paternally patient and incomparably brilliant. This simplistic approach to two flawed yet fascinating men mars just about every paragraph of the novel. Some of the villains - real people who in no way resemble the characters created by Rubenfeld - were notable Jungians. We get it, Mr. Rubenfeld: You really, really like Freud.
The entire premise of the novel is flawed. Rubenfeld is attempting to answer the question "Why did Freud hate America so much?", and he goes to great creative lengths to craft a solution. But anyone familiar with Freud will tell you that his reasons for despising the U.S. were mundane: He didn't like the "dominance" of American women, the food gave him indigestion, his hosts weren't as worshipful as he expected them to be. Quite simply, America wasn't Vienna. It lacked the over-polished manners and quaint traditions of Viennese society, the crystal bubble in which Freud had spent most of his life. In other words, Freud wasn't actually subjected to any "savagery" during his visit; his lifelong disdain for Americans stemmed from his own issues.
There are a few scenes that can't fail to impress, particularly one in which a pneumatic caisson is used very creatively by a villain, but the rest of the story is padded with Jung-bashing, quasi-philosophical musings gleaned from Freud biographies, and extraneous historical detail about New York architecture. And like any true Freudian, Rubenfeld can't seem to prevent a creeping misogyny from saturating his story. There are exactly two major female characters, and both are profoundly disturbed.
"All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom." - Albert Einstein