By Blood
Ellen Ullman
book reviews:
· general fiction
· chick lit/romance
· sci-fi/fantasy
· graphic novels
· nonfiction
· audio books

Click here for the RSS Feed

· author interviews
· children's books @
· DVD reviews @

win books
buy online


for authors
& publishers

for reviewers

click here to learn more

Buy *By Blood* by Ellen Ullman online

By Blood
Ellen Ullman
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
384 pages
February 2012
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

buy this book now or browse millions of other great products at
previous reviewnext review

Readers who come to Ullman’s sensational novel looking for safe harbor will be sorely disappointed--as they should be. A psychological study of three individuals unfolding against a background of the mid-1970s and stagflation, the OPEC oil crisis, the Zodiac killer, and the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, the author’s chilling tale cannot (and should not) attempt to be a definitive account of the period.

The author’s frightening foray into obsession becomes a nightmarish account of a disgraced college professor whose relocation to San Francisco presages a growing propensity to indulge in wild fantasies of covert trysts with a young lesbian seeking psychotherapy in the next-door office. From the dismal house the professor rents on Ocean Beach to his long, rumbling ride in the N Judah streetcar, his journey leads him to this strange office building in a rough and tumble section of Market Street. Room 807 is a refuge, a place where he might pierce the isolation of his current nervous spells.

Crouched behind the adjoining door, “a stance close to the postures of my darker nature,” the professor is drawn to both therapist and patient, excited by the thought of a deeper intimacy. For a man who becomes a major player in this drama, he’s titillated at being hidden and liable for the patient’s secrets and her budding bitterness that she can’t do more to free herself from her demanding lover. As black moods descend upon the professor “like crows,” he is startled by the sudden clarity of sounds coming from the office and the infinitely expanding scent of the patient’s ongoing life.

Moving from San Francisco to the beach-front apartments of Tel Aviv, Ullman’s dark, twisted tale focuses on the fate of the Jews, the nature of the patient’s adoption by her cold, rejecting parents, and the mystery she wishes to keep hidden and never mention: the forbidden topic of lesbianism. A feeling of claustrophobia abounds, transmuted to the professor in peripatetic fragments as he decides to abet the patient’s search to flesh out the reality of her birth mother.

Wet gloom holds sway over a frightened San Francisco. From leaden skies come “shivering curtains” of static, whispers of strange reports: of gruesome horrors and chaos, women forced to watch their boyfriends knifed to death, and random shootings. Political murders by underground groups are a harbinger of bombings, fate dropping hints to test us, to see of we can resist the deeds that will lead us towards damnation.

Ullman’s draws us into this shattered landscape as both mentor and patient are set adrift in an indifferent universe, looking for symbols and signs. Soaring into a new sphere of psychological complicity, the professor is plunged into a foreign world of the Castro’s smoky nightclubs where a boy looks back at him amid blue strobe lights. Here we finally see the professor’s anxieties and the “dark creature” descending upon him. Clearly the man is damaged; it is unfeasible to ever envisage this impostor as anything but unsympathetic.

Banding together doctor, patient and professor, By Blood has sinister, rain-drenched gargoyles and black, circling cherubs’ eyes standing mute and judgmental. From the professor’s infamous ruse to the patient's enthusiastic stirrings of hope and the therapist’s intuitive need to help, the action is drenched in lust and anxiety as the author explores the darker side of blood and birthright.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2012

buy *By Blood* online
click here for more info
Click here to learn more about this month's sponsor!

fiction · sf/f · comic books · nonfiction · audio
newsletter · free book contest · buy books online
review index · links · · authors & publishers

site by ELBO Computing Resources, Inc.