Houghton-Mufflin, 15.95 by Judith Rossner
Judith Rossner's seventh book is a wonderfully written psychological tour de force, a piercing look at the mind and its would-be healers and a moving drama. Still, it is obstructed by an overriding flaw of character.
Simply, the book is boring.
'August' is the key month in this novel of analyst and analysand, marking its beginning, its end and its crests of conflict. August is vacation month for psychoanalysts like Dr. Lulu Shinefeld and consequently a vacuum for her patients -- the most important being the brooding and initially suicidal young Dawn Henley.
Dawn tells her own story as Rossner follows from her first meeting with Dr. Shinefeld in a magnificently crafted transcript of Dawn's ramblings and the analyst's detached but alert prodding.
Dawn improves, from a near-fatal accident-on-purpose to actually being able to seek out her bitter, buried roots -- father killed in a boating accident, childhood with a lesbian aunt and her lover and ill-treatment by a previous analyst.
In between, Dr. Shinefeld, in her 40s, twice-divorced and estranged from her wild eldest daughter, passes through the mid-life crisis zone. She shifts from wife to mistress to jilted older woman and back again, ultimately finding a reconciliation of sorts with the daughter as well as herself.
There is much cerebral meat on these bones, a hefty dollop of thought-provoking insight.
But as Dawn unfolds her tale in the excruciatingly slow process of analysis, Rossner forgets that the view from the analyst's couch is of the office ceiling. She seeks realism and nuance at the expense of leaving the reader behind.
Consequently, Dawn's story, strange and moving, becomes mired in peripheral characters and sundry obsessions. Lulu's, although a bit more apace, suffers in the interim.
Rossner succeeds in giving insight into the world of Central Park West psycho-society and in sweeping away any comforting thoughts that our analysts are any better than ourselves.
Lulu flaps like an unlatched window between men, all in the field themselves, from a selfish husband to a wimp to a succession of dull lovers to a man she seems to find happiness with -- an analyst himself, a flabby, whimpering baby obsessed with sex and seeming in need of a surrogate mother.
But Rossner perhaps suffers from accidents of timing. Her best-known book, 'Looking for Mr. Goodbar,' hit at the right time. 'August' should have been released in February, when there isn't much to do but turn inwards.