by Heidi Julavits; New York, Doubleday, 2006, 368 pages, $24.95
Dr. Peele and Dr. Kadekar are affiliated with the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, George Washington University, Washington, D.C.
In the mid-1980s, about the time this novel begins, Jeffrey Masson claimed that "every patient treated since the invention of psychoanalysis should be recalled, like the Ford Pinto." Masson declared that Freud had erroneously assumed that the reports of sexual abuse by his patients were fantasies. In Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria, the 14-year-old Dora had alleged she was sexually abused by "K," which Freud interpreted as fantasy. In this novel by Heidi Julavits, a teenager, Mary, reads Freud's book on Dora, then, on November 7, 1985, disappears for about six weeks.
Upon returning to her family and school, she goes into treatment to address her amnesia, which was supposedly triggered by what happened during those six weeks. Through her psychotherapist's working notes, we are told what happens during this early time frame after her return. The therapist, however, having once made the "mistake" a number of years previously of assuming a student had been sexually abused, is careful not to make that interpretation again. Instead, he even comes up with a theory about why young girls have such fantasies and writes a best-selling book about it.
Exactly 14 years later to the day, November 7, 1999, Mary's mother dies, and this brings Mary, who is living 3,000 miles away, back into strained relationships within her family and with her former therapist. After the funeral, Mary addresses relationships with her family, including her dead mother, and her therapist.
In addition to chapters of therapist notes and chapters of events immediately after the funeral, there are chapters on what might have happened with an older man called "K" for the first 36 hours of the disappearance.
Reflections on the weeks of disappearance attract self-serving interpretations by family, classmates, theory-building therapists, and Mary herself. These interpretations are explicated in fascinating dialogues of the characters, all of whom are totally self-absorbed. These dialogs and Julavits's descriptive abilities rule out a single boring page. A lot of wit and humor fill the book.
Upon finishing the book, you will want all the hypotheses as to what happened during Mary's disappearance to be recalled.