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Book Reviews   |    
With a Woman's Voice: A Writer's Struggle for Emotional Freedom
Reviewed by Ellen B. Tabor
Psychiatric Services 2006; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.57.5.734
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by Lucy Daniels; Latham, Maryland, Madison Books, 2002, 352 pages, $27.95

Dr. Tabor is medical director of the adult inpatient service at Kings County Hospital Center in Brooklyn, New York, and assistant professor of psychiatry at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center.

If the unexamined life is not worth living, what, then, about the overexamined life? The life that Lucy Daniels heaps upon the page in With a Woman's Voice is examined as closely as an anorexic might measure her food. No detail is too insignificant to be retold, and no event took place that the author does not use to hammer home her point. Her childhood, privileged on the outside, is barren, abusive, and traumatic on the inside, the secret place that only she knows. As she force feeds the reader the minutia of her thoughts, this reader pushed away the overloaded plate of words and said, "Enough!"

Lucy Daniels describes her mother as cold, more concerned with appearances than with love, and fearful of her daughter, a rival for the attention of her father, who is a boisterous, sexual, and menacing man. She describes herself as the victim of their insufficient efforts to nurture or destroy her. So she acts out their emotional starvation and sexual intrusiveness by becoming anorexic. And she repays them by stuffing her readers to the point of bursting. The author's language is redolent with sexuality and heavy-curtained secrecy, in the fashion of many Southern authors, yet her writing lacks art and, for this reader, sympathy.

The title of the book would be better stated "With a Child's Voice," because Dr. Daniels continues to be the bitter, hungry, and frightened child who is seemingly unchanged despite years of psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, and her professional development as a psychologist. She maintains this tone until the coda of the book, which comes after more than 300 pages of anger and pain. Most of this book is tiresome, whiny, and utterly lacking in evidence of working through the author's issues. This woman is angry, furious, and enraged and insists that the reader share her worldview. Eventually, the author finds an analyst who can bear her pain and understand her traumas and yearnings, and through psychoanalysis she manages to restore herself to a life of writing, of hope, and even, it seems, of joy.

At some point, a psychotherapist must request that the patient take the insights gained from therapy and put them to work in her life; insight alone is an insufficient goal of psychotherapy. Yet until the very last few pages, Dr. Daniels does not demonstrate any appearance of growth as a human being. Forgiving her parents may be too much to ask of a person who feels so injured, but why not understanding that leads to rapprochement? All I hear from this author is "I survived!" In fact, the first sentence of the coda chapter is "I still exist."

The author courageously shares her dreams and other content from her analytic hours. She shares experiences, events, thoughts, and the most painful fantasies. Somehow the author's rage prevents much empathy from developing until the end. Yet Dr. Daniels, as she states herself, has remained demanding: "my man would have to be pretty remarkable to fit with the standards I've internalized from Dr. Howie [the analyst]." She does not realize that her standards also limit her relationships with her children and grandchildren. She seems gratified to note that "needs can be roots of power." What she does not seem to have learned is that to get along with others one must sometimes sublimate one's needs for theirs. Hers is a sad story indeed, and one that, for all her success, remains sad today.

With a Woman's Voice is not a pleasant book, and it is not a good book. I cannot recommend it for any reader. Curiously, the book was printed in Iceland. Dr. Daniels seems to have inhabited a land of ice herself, and she resists thawing.




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