Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 37
Here’s my book review of Ballad of the Black and Blue Mind by Anne Roiphe.
If you’re in therapy or considering it, you may find this novel unsettling. It’s about Manhattan psychiatrist Dr. Estelle Berman, and two of her colleagues – middle-aged men identified only as Dr. H and Dr. Z. Most of the other characters in the book are their students or their patients. And all of these lives intersect and become entangled.
To some of her patients and even her friends, Dr. Berman can seem cold and calculating. She thinks of herself as wise and practical. All of the therapists in this story are trying improve the lives of their patients, who range from troubled to disturbed, many of them needing medication but not hospitalization.
There’s Justine, the gorgeous young movie star, who is anorexic and a kleptomaniac. There’s homely and lonely Anne, who fears she’s unlovable and gets coaxed out of the closet, only to be jilted. And the doctors refer their own children to each other for treatment. Dr. Z’s daughter Ronit is stressed because she can’t get pregnant, then Dr. Z is stressed about the possible complications when he finds out she’s carrying twins.
These are psychiatric case histories flavored with personal drama. We get insight into the mental processes and disorders of the patients, as well as those of their doctors. Because from Roiphe’s vantage point, all human minds are troubled. It’s just that some of us live with our demons better than others.
This is Anne Roiphe’s tenth novel, and she’s been described as a first-generation feminist. She’s also done nonfiction books and articles on family issues and mental health. She has an insider’s grasp of the psychiatric profession, and at times it’s not at all flattering.
Ballad of the Black and Blue Mind is a peek into the tangled psyches of a few intelligent people, most of them well-to-do and white, in today’s New York City. To paraphrase the narrator of the old TV series, “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This is just a few of them.” And whether outwardly healthy or visibly disturbed, each of us suffers daily from self-doubt, jealousy, rage, guilt, arrogance, fears, phobias, and nightmares.
This dark novel could make for a fascinating book report. But a summer beach read, it’s not.
For Boychik Lit, I’m Gerald Everett Jones, the author of the humorous novel Farnsworth’s Revenge. Catch these podcasts at BoychikLit.com.
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