Category: FR – Fiction Romance

Normal People by Sally Rooney

August 24th, 2019 — 11:10am

Normal People by Sally Rooney

One of the most intriguing things about this book is the title. I believe that that author is telling us that every meaningful relationship is built upon complex psychodynamics. In this story, we have a boy and girl who become friends in childhood. She is from a wealthy family with one parent and a brother who is frequently mean to her. He is raised by a single loving mom who is actually a housekeeper for the girl’s family. He is very popular in high school with lots of friends. She is a loner and often didn’t go to classes. They both are very smart. They have their first sexual experience together which is very intense and meaningful. As both of them mature and go to college they develop a different circle of friends and relationships but they still have various meetings and encounters. One of them has a tendency to have a depressive disorder. Both of them have complex dynamics related to needs and preferences influenced by earlier experiences with family members. For example one has certain masochistic needs. These factors all influence their choices and experiments with relationships and the struggles whenever they periodically reconnect. This very well-written book shows us the very complex psychological factors which greatly impact on their pathway in life and their attraction to each other. There is nothing common, typical, or easily predictable, but yet, that is what human behavior is all about. “Just two normal people.”

If you wish to purchase  this book from Amazon please click here

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An American Marriage : A Novel by Tayari Jones

February 20th, 2018 — 1:34pm

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

This is a story of an unusual love triangle. A young married loving couple finds themselves involuntarily separated for five years. When there is an opportunity to reunite, wouldn’t you know if there is a third party on the scene? The story deals not only with love but with morality. The author presents the inner personal thoughts of each protagonist going back and forth between each one. The reader has an opportunity to empathize with each person as there is a building up to a very complicated conclusion.

The main characters are Black and the author is reminding the reader that our society frequently does not play fair with people of color. As the story builds to its crescendo and conclusion, I am on the edge of my seat but I also felt that I was being whipped back and forth by the author, which was very disconcerting. However, whether you feel gratified by the ending or not, it is worth going along for the ride .

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To purchase  a copy of this book on Amazon, please click here

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From sand and Ash by Amy Harmon

January 6th, 2018 — 12:37am

From Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon

If I had to make a list of the books that made the greatest impression upon me, I’m pretty sure I would include the Diary of Anne Frank, Schindler’s List and Sophie’s Choice. Not surprising these books all deal with the Holocaust. Growing up in the post World War II, I became acutely aware of the details of what was done to the Jewish people in Europe in the previous decade. My own relatives who are not “survivors” but had family in Europe who perished during that period of time rarely talked about the details which probably fueled my interest. Being Jewish, I felt a personal connection to understand this horrific period of history. As a young psychiatrist working in Brooklyn, I treated a number of children of concentration camp survivors which made a lasting impression on me.

In the past few years, several excellent books which delved into this subject have been reviewed in this blog. This includes How we Survived, The Nightingale, All the Light We Cannot See, Once We Were Brothers, Maus I&II and The Book Thief.(you can click these titles to see my review of each of them )

This current novel From Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon examines the impact of the Holocaust in Italy. In particular, it puts a light on the heroic efforts of members of the Catholic clergy who secretly risked their lives to save many Jews who had become the target of the fascist government of Mussolini which was was allied with Hitler.

The main characters are a Catholic priest and a Jewish young woman who grew up together since childhood. The author in the postscript revealed that these characters were fictional but all the horrible events depicted were real and based on factual events. The author appeared to pay close attention to historical details at the same time that she wrote a beautiful love story. As I finally closed the book after completing it I asked myself three familiar questions: How could so many people do such terrible things to the Jews? How did some people develop the courage to risk their lives and the lives of their families to try to hide and save so many Jews. What would I have done if I had faced the challenges of that time period?

This is a well-written book that may not answer these questions but will provide a page turning experience, which will hold your interest and attention as well as connecting to your emotions.

To purchase this book from Amazon, please click here

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Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

March 17th, 2016 — 1:01pm

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 10.02.31 PMFate and Furies by Lauren Groff

Apparently, people either love or hate this book. If I hated it maybe that would have meant it had some special emotional meaning to me, which I don’t believe was the case. I certainly did not love it.

The main protagonists are a married couple, Lotto and Mathilde. They are seemingly very much in love but as often is the case there  is much more than meets the eye. Lotto was an actor turned into a successful playwright. In such a situation it would be expected that we might better understand him through his plays. We are presented with many pages of his plays which don’t really provide any great insight into him. We understand Mathilde as we learn more things about her earlier years, which gradually unfold throughout the book.

The author’s style reminds me of my early encounter with the classical writers which I did not  particularly understand and was not especially moved to figure them out. Perhaps this is my shortcoming. Another way of describing the style of the author is to say it is very pretentious. There were many metaphors which where not decipherable and seemed “cutsie”.  Sometimes while I was trying to figure them out, I felt I lost to some of the story line. Many authors successfully jump back and forth into different points in time, but usually there are some reference to where the particular chapter is taking place as well as the time period. This was not so with this book. I found that the time and place were not immediately obvious and therefore the readers may be  trying to figure them out rather than focusing on the plot.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is the presence of “secrets” in the lives of the characters. Often these secrets when they are present contain something about their biological origin and/or secret sexual encounters. Why these secrets are so meaningful in a particular narrative is that they are often the doorway to some interesting psychological dynamics. I believe that with this book, the author would  knock on the door but then not clearly deliver on this possibility. Overall, I would say that this book was not my cup of tea.

To obtain a copy of this book from Amazon, please click here 

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The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

February 13th, 2016 — 12:15am

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 10.52.38 PMThe Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

This is a sequel to The Rosie Project by the same author which in my opinion did not add anything to the first book. The main character, Don Tillman, a professor of Genetics from Australia who now is working at Columbia Medical School in New York has married Rosie, a combination PhD and medical student, who was the object of his attention in the first book. Rosie is now pregnant and Don’s reaction to this situation occupies much of the attention in this sequel. As we previously noted, I think it is fair to say that Don has a condition that might be called Asperger’s syndrome. He is obviously a very brilliant man who is extremely logical and analytical but he doesn’t quite get the meaning of feelings and emotions although he does clearly love Rosie. Don will make a spreadsheet to analyze any problem. Think Mr. Spock from Star Trek. Rosie is concerned whether Don will be able to relate to their impending child (designated at BUD for baby under development).

In an attempt to gain insight and understanding of young children, Don attempts to shoot some videos of children playing in the park. This leads him to be picked up in the park by the police for suspected pornographic intentions. This develops some interesting storylines that are clever but not brilliant enough in my opinion to become a page turner. For the most part, the author seems to be going over the same ground as in the first book. Don’s way of thinking is logical and seemingly without any psychological defenses. He says what he thinks and this allows for insightful if not amusing comments. He has a few loyal friends which allow some focus on interesting ideas about infidelity and friendship bonds between these guys. Every new character who appears in the book is described by Don by his analysis of their BMI (body mass index) which is amusing but wears thin after a while.

The first book, The Rosie Project presented an original character through whom the author could reflect on many human foibles. The author developed a base of loyal readers who might be expected to embrace the return of this character in The Rosie Effect. For me, the first book was good enough.

1 comment » | FG - Fiction General, FR - Fiction Romance, Uncategorized

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

May 23rd, 2015 — 9:58pm

The Rosie Project by Graeme SimsionScreen Shot 2015-05-23 at 9.57.53 PM

Dr. Don Tillman is a professor of genetics in Australia where the book is set. It is his voice that tells the story. It does not take long to realize that it is probably the voice of a person with Asperger’s Syndrome. Don, while obviously quite brilliant, lacks the ability to socialize and empathize with other people. At least so it seems. His only real friends are Gene, a faculty member in the Psychology Department and his wife, Claudia, who is a clinical psychologist. They have an open marriage as Gene attempts to have sex with a wide variety of women from all over the world (putting pins in a map marking each conquest). Gene and Claudia are loyal friends of Don and do their best to advise him how to get along with people.

Don undertakes two projects, which allows the reader to learn about how he thinks as well as getting some insight into human nature. The first is The Wife Project. For this, Don makes a questionnaire of all the characteristics he believes he would want in a wife. With the help of Gene, he is able to distribute this questionnaire to a wide variety of women. Factors that are evaluated are things such as smoking, drinking, eating habits, body mass index (BMI) and many others. No one really measures up to score very high in this questionnaire in Don’s quest to meet his life partner. Don does meet Rosie through Gene, who although she does not meet the criteria set out in the questionnaire but with whom he does develop a friendly relationship. Rosie was initially believed by Don to be a bartender but turns out to be a PhD student working in a bar to earn extra money.

It is with Rosie that he develops a second project known as The Father’s Project. It seems that Rosie was unhappy with the man who was known to be her stepfather because he did not deliver on his promises including a childhood hope to go to Disneyland. Her mother died when Rosie was a young girl and things that her mother told her before she died gave her reason to believe that her biological father was actually someone in her mother’s medical school graduating class and had impregnated her at the time of a reunion celebration. There was a picture of all the attendees at this celebration and Rosie and Don embarked upon The Father’s Project where they attempted to track down all these men and surreptitiously obtain samples for DNA analysis, which Don as a genetics professor could do in his laboratory.

Readers of this book blog as well as my psychiatry blog and movie blog would have noted that I have written about the not so uncommon quest to connect with an unknown biological relative, after many years and sometimes a lifetime of no contact with them and no knowledge who that person may be. ( see psychiatry blog about this subject  ) This theme also shows up in movies ( see movie blog about this subject which will links to several movies ) and books as well as this one and in clinical cases as illustrated in my psychiatry blog. As Don and Rosie team up with The Father’s Project, we appreciate how Don intensifies an interest with Rosie. He begins to question many of his assumptions about relationships and his own feeling.

No matter how well a person may fit, the diagnostic criteria for an entity whether it be a narcissistic personality, bipolar disorder, major depression, Asperger’s syndrome or any other entity, there are human qualities that affect the ability for everyone to care for another person, fall in love and have an ability to change. This interesting delightful and enlightening story clearly makes this point.

I understand there is a sequel book by this author, titled The Rosie Effect as well as a movie currently being made. If you like this book as I did, you probably will want to check these out.

1 comment » | FG - Fiction General, FR - Fiction Romance

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

April 25th, 2014 — 11:42pm

Screen Shot 2014-04-25 at 1.53.36 PMFifty Shades of Grey by E.L, James|

By the time I got around to reading this book it had sold 100 million copies in 52 languages. It was a hot best seller from the moment it burst on the scene selling 2 million copies during its first month out. The story is simple and somewhat repetitious with a thin plot. Anastasia Steele 21 year old attractive, virgin college girl with very limited sexual experience pinch-hits for her roommate who is on the college newspaper and interviews the scheduled graduation speaker. He is Christian Grey, an incredibly handsome and rich 27 year old, very successful businessman. He is obviously taken with her. He tracks her down and they begin to establish a relationship. She is very attracted to him and one might expect that we would have two people doing what comes naturally. The catch here is while he is very proficient in deflowering this girl and satisfying her sexually, he has special needs. These needs involve acting out his sadomasochistic fantasies where he is the Dominant and she is the Submissive. This involves restraining her, tying her, flogging her and much more. He has a great need to possess her. Where he differs from the individual with a sadomasochistic disorder is that he only wants to carry this out with a consenting woman and he even offers her a detailed contract where all the details and so called limits are spelled out. As they continue to interact sexually and as she contemplates if she will sign this contract, she falls in love with him and wants to please him. She hopes he will love her more than his perverse sexual needs dictate. Needless to say the book is rich in the detail of their sexual interaction. It is clearly written from a women’s point of view. Ana’s arousal is traced in great detail and her orgasms are vividly described in somewhat repetitive language. There can be no doubt that the mass appeal of this book which surely has to be mainly to women comes from the wishful identification with the experience of the main female character. It is not a stretch to understand how appealing it is for a woman to imagine a wealthy, extremely good-looking man who buys her expensive gifts and is immensely attracted to her. There can be multiple components to a woman’s sexual fantasies. One of them could be to be dominated by a desirable man. This storyline tests the limit of that fantasy. While I call this a woman’s book I am sure that I am not the only man who read it. It is part of the common male phantasy to want to dominate an extremely attractive girl, but the extent of Christian Grey’s needs could only have developed by special circumstances. (Remember Dustin Hoffman’s character in The Graduate and his relationship with Mrs. Robinson?) While the roots of these determining factors were clearly discussed in the book, they were not fully expounded upon. Perhaps these are being elaborated in more detail in the newer books of the now “trilogy” which the author has written. I will probably pass on the next two books but I have no doubt they will sell well and ultimately produce a movie which I might just take in.

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Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

November 19th, 2013 — 1:03am

tdE9E2Y8HWzpebSLJfvax5b2KWIpJwVDCkbuX3SwYAF-7E8HeHP606l_xfLHpldJEIOSFg=s123Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie This is a novel about Ifemelu an attractive bright young woman who grows up in Lagos, a city in Nigeria. She falls in love with Obinze and they seem to be a perfect pair meant for each other. However like many educated young people from Nigeria she is driven to explore horizons beyond her environment and finds a way to come to America. We are able to follow her on this at times torturous journey. We come to understand her relationships with the people that she meets and her love life with several men as well as her career which includes, not surprisingly, being a writer and eventually a blogger. We see through her eyes how she is viewed by Americans both black and white and the distinctions that she draws between Non-African Black and African Black. The reader gains thoughtful and at times jolting insights into the complexities of the meaning of what might be considered an incidental task and that is how she decides to have her hair done. Ifemelu’s decision to return to Nigeria allows the reader to gain a further prospective on some of the views of her countrymen and women towards America as well as her view of her country based on her years of living in the U.S. Make no mistake, Ifemelu the main character should not be considered a stereotype of Africans or even of Nigerians. She is a product of her environment and all the experiences to which she has been exposed. Her life and the choices which she makes can be understood and identified with by many of the readers from different backgrounds. The idea that there is no single story for one group of people is something very important to the author.

After I completed this book, I wanted to know to know more about the author.I found this video clip of  Ngozi Adichie giving the prestigious TED lecture. I highly recommend it to anyone who may be considering spending time with this novel as it will give you an idea of intelligence and thoughtfulness of the author

The link is :

There was a passage in the book which was one of several blogs written by Ifemelu, which struck me as a clear descriptions of racism in America. While it is only a small part of the book, I thought it was worth repeating and using it to demonstrate the value of reading this book:

Understanding America for the Non-American Black: A few Explanations of What Things Really Mean

1-Of all their tribalisms, Americans are most uncomfortable with race, If you are having a conversation with an American, and you want to discuss something racial that you find interesting, and the American says, “ Oh, it’s simplistic to say it’s race, racism is so complex,” it means they just want you to shut up already, Because of course racism is complex. Many abolitionists wanted to free the slaves but didn’t want black people living nearby. Lots of folk today don’t mind a black nanny or black limo driver. But they sure as hell mind a black boss. What is simplistic is saying “It’s so complex.” But shut up anyway, especially if you need a job/favor from the American in question.

2. Diversity means different things to different folks. If a white person is saying a neighborhood is diverse, they mean nine percent black people (the minute it gets to ten percent black people, the white folk move out.) If a black person says diverse neighborhood, they are thinking forty percent black.

3. Sometimes they say “culture” when they mean race. They say a film is “mainstream” when they mean “white folks like it or made it,” When they say “urban” it means black and poor and possibly dangerous and potentially exciting. “Racially charged” means we are uncomfortable saying “racist.”

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Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

November 12th, 2011 — 9:42pm

Major Pettigrew's Last StandWhen you are part of book discussion group, you often find yourself reading books that you might not have chosen on your own. A book about a stuffy British retired Major would not normally be my cup of tea and I felt that way for the first few chapters of the book. However the issues, which the characters were dealing with, began to stimulate my thinking. The  Major was obsessed  whether he would get the other half of a pair of old shooting pistols with a meaningful family history that had been in the possession of his recently deceased brother since he always felt that they both should have bequeathed to himself by their father. I could not help but think of all the stories I have heard about hurt feelings that have revolved around inheritances and the life long bitterness that sometimes follows such circumstances. Also quite thought provoking was  the main theme of this novel which  was romance that the Major and a similarly “older” Pakistanian women were developing. .It confronted the issue of how family, friends so often try to define what the boundaries of a relationship should be , especially when there might be differences of  race, religion and culture. The author really looks at what the obstacles could be to joining a country club as well as the obstacles  for two good people joining together in a relationship. While a story of  love occurring at the tail end of the age spectrum will not come as a surprise to senior citizens, their children’s generation  can find it hard to believe This was one of the reasons why  the way the main character  had to consider had to be thoughtful of how he was now viewing his own son. In the end I decided that I did like this British cup of tea and suggest it can be savored for some good reading.

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Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

September 4th, 2009 — 5:38am

Loving Frank by Nancy HoranLoving Frank by Nancy Horan

This is an historical novel based on the love affair of famed American architect Frank Lloyd Wright and a married woman Mamah Cheney. They met when Wright was asked by the young Cheney couple to design a home for them in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago in 1903.

The author appears to have impressively researched the material on the subjects of the novel as described in the afterword and in interviews with her. Whether she has accurately captured their inner thoughts ,conflicts and all the circumstances of their relationship is not as important to me as is the discussion that she is stimulating about marriage, love, loyalty to children, the effect of divorce on children, feminism and the relationship between men and women. This is quite an accomplishment for a first novel.

Mamah Cheney, college educated with a masters degree, writer, fluent in several languages, mother of two small kids, realizes she shouldn’t have married Edwin who is a nice enough devoted hardworking husband. She is now smitten with Frank Lloyd Wright, self centered, creative, brilliant architect who designs buildings to blend with nature. He also has small children and is married to Catherine whom he feels doesn’t understand his special qualities . Mamah and Frank who appear to deeply appreciate one another, fall in love and go off together. Although it is difficult for her, Mamah is able to leave her children to her husband who cares for them with the help of a live- in single sister and a housekeeper. She and Frank live in Europe for awhile and eventually settle in Wisconsin where Frank designs their new residence called Taliesin (from the Welsh word meaning “shining brow” as it is built into the brow of the hillside instead of on top of the hill). Wright is of course is known for his “organic architecture” Ultimately Mamah has some visits with her children but has essentially abandoned them for most of their early childhood. Frank visits his children periodically in Chicago but is basically out of his house living with Mamah in Wisconsin.

The story unfolds mostly through Mamah’s eyes and thoughts. The reader is not only swept up in the story but is given ample opportunity to identify with Mamah and the excitement of her life .She has clearly made a mistake in her decision to originally marry Edwin. She now sees the opportunity to rectify her big false step by living out a life in love with rich fulfillment in so many ways with Frank. The author’s empathy for her is quite palpable in the book as well as in the epigraph she chose for her novel from Goethe, “One lives but once in the world.” At the same time the main character in the book wonders about the decisions that she and Frank have made as well as the implications for their spouses and children. . Many of her own ideas are honed and clarified as she meets Ellen Key,
Swedish feminist and agrees to translate her writings for an American readers. While Mamah strongly agrees with just about everything Key asserts , she did have some qualms with her statement: “The very legitimate right of a free love can never be acceptable if it is enjoyed at the expense of maternal love.”

In the novel and apparently in real life this affair was considered a front page scandal in the Chicago newspapers which of course greatly impacted on the participants. The criteria for a public airing of such an affair may have changed in the past one hundred years. It now appears to have to be a popular movie or television star or a major politician but there is no shortage of such front page stories. As I write this piece today the TIME magazine cover story “Unfaithfully Yours” is examining The marriage of Mark Sanford governor of South Carolina and his wife Jenny, former senator and former presidential hopeful John Edwards and his wife Elizabeth, former governor of NY Eliot Spitzer and his wife Silda and reality TV parents of eight kids Kate and Jon Gosselin. The men in each of these high profile marriages chose to have extra-marital affairs with lesser known women.

The writer of the TIME piece Caitlin Flanagan concludes that there is no other single force causing as much measurable hardship and human misery in this country as the collapse of marriage. She concludes that it hurts children, it reduces mothers’ financial security and it has landed with particular devastation on those who can bear it the least, the nation’s underclass. While the characters in the novel or the high profile people mentioned above don’t fit into this socioeconomic class, few would argue that the impact of divorce probably is magnified as you move down this ladder.

While empathizing with any women’s legitimate wish to be happy and live a fulfilled life as she sees fit, let us keep our eye on the impact on the children. The book keeps returning to Mamah’s feelings and obligation to the children. This was a time before shared custodies, single mothers were becoming more common place , let alone same sex parents. Our modern day recent TIME article quotes a 1994 book Growing up With A Single Parent by Sara McLanahan who studied effects of divorce on children from middle and upper income households. . She concluded that “children who grow up in a household with only one biological parent are worse off on average than children who grow up in a household with both of their biological parents regardless of the parents’ race or educational background.”

Before I recently relocated to California I lived and practiced in Westchester county in New York. One of my colleagues was the outstanding child psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Paulina Kernberg who wrote extensively on children and divorce. She believed divorce, was the second worst trauma a child could undergo, exceeded only by the death of a parent. The psychological scars, she warned, lingered, and in many cases a child was better served living in a loveless or contentious marriage than shuttling between separate households. Perhaps one of the most important recent books giving insight into the impact of divorce on children was The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce written by a renowned San Francisco psychologist Dr. Judith Wallerstein with Julia Lewis and Sandra Blakeslee This was a 25 year study of a group of 131 children whose parents were all going through a divorce. She pointed out among other things that over time these now grown children who usually do not a have a model for a successful relationship have to figure out how to find loving partners and to become good protective parents. She also highlighted how the effect of divorce on a child may not appear until this child is in their late 20’s to early 40s. At this time they can have great fears of loss, conflict and betrayal as they choose their own partners. This may lead to self destructive choices in partners. In other cases of course they can learn from their parent’s mistakes and end up with good marriages. However, I don’t know of any research that has been able to systematically study the effect on children growing up with parents who are unhappily married and resent their own decision to stay together for the children

In the course of my psychiatry practice I have seen many women and men over the years who were contemplating separation, divorce or had been through this process. While it is helpful to be familiar with the above and other and writings, I have found that there are so many variables that it serves no value to generalize in regard to any individual in this situation. Each person brings their own history, background, values and emotional template and we must try our best to help them within this context.

One of the advantages to a person who chooses to get help at this cross road in their life is that we can determine if they have a specific psychiatric condition which if treated will make it much easier for them to negotiate this life crisis and make decisions. For example if a person has an untreated mood disorder such as a major depression or a bipolar disorder there could be intense mood changes which are clouding or influencing their decision making processes. Much more complicated but quite relevant could be certain types of personality disorders or patterns which invariably lead an individual to make repetitive unsuccessful or even destructive choices in their lives. Ideally such a person will be able to enter into therapy for a reasonable amount to time before making important decisions which may be hard to reverse. As in most therapy situations, a good therapist will remain neutral, not let their own personal values unduly influence the patient while allowing an examination of the life crisis . One challenging situation which often requires an exception to this completely neutral stance is when the patient ( most likely a women ) is the victim of clear repetitive abuse by her partner and requires positive affirmative encouragement and support by the therapist. to step away from it.

In conclusion I believe “Loving Frank” is an excellent book. It not only tells the story of two very interesting people which ends with the tragic death of one of them, but it stimulates reflection on a whole myriad of personal issues which were as relevant 100 years ago as they are today.

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