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Buy *Envy* online


Kathryn Harrison
Random House
320 pages
July 2005
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars
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In the latest novel from Kathryn Harrison (The Seal Wife, The Binding Chair, Thicker Than Water, Poison, Exposure and her now infamous memoir The Kiss), she digs into the same grief-infused obsession (some could say morbid or tragic) repertoire with Envy. The protagonist is Will Moreland, a New York psychoanalyst who has lost a son, is estranged from his brother who happens to be a famous Olympic swimmer, has tense conversations with his philandering father, and has a relationship with his wife that is very distant: the grief becoming a wedge between them emotionally and sexually.

The opening chapters of the book are really hot. Not in an erotic way (thatís for later in the book) - more as in fiery dialogue shooting between characters. Will goes to his twenty-fifth college reunion, where he sees an old flame who might have been pregnant with his child. The rapid-fire delivery of this scene burns white-hot. But from there on, the succeeding chapters and story suffers from overly metaphoric, psychoanalytical prose like this:

ďNo, thatís not true. It may seem heís come apart all at once, but its an alignment Ė a compounding Ė of fractures, none of them new; estrangement from brother; death of son; reinvention of father. All versions of himself, if he can get away with such a Will-centered universe. Well, yes, of course he can. Inside his own head he can And why stop there? Why when father, twin, and son cover all the same tenses Ė past, present, and future? No wonder he was soÖ so whatever at the reunion. Heís ceased to exist as extension of himself. F*$k! Yes, heís obsessed with sex. How else could he escape the inside of his head, where every thought refuses to be fleeting and instead waits to be hyperarticulated, edited, revised, and then annotated like some nightmare hybrid of Talmudic commentary and Freudian case study? How else to jump out of his own skin except by fantasies of getting into someone elseís?Ē
Yes, Will is a psychoanalyst with a host of problems, but it becomes a chore when he scrutinizes himself to no end. Itís almost like there are mini-essays in between the dialogue causing the book to read like a collection of well-articulated character studies instead of a cohesive novel. With that said, thereís something to the story that compels you, like Father Merrin, to continue reading on. I did. You might too.

The family drama shifts when a patient named Jennifer shakes Willís world up with her own confessions of sexual obsession. Jennifer likes to collect (have sex with) older men and Will is lost in a morass of personal desires and professional etiquette.

But, by the end, when all the separate storylines mesh together after a single sexual sequence (the sexual encounter that ties everything together), all the vivid, descriptive writing isnít enough of a pay off. With all the deciphering, sorting, and over-analyzing (and I mean over-analyzing), it turns out Will canít even figure out the problems he has at home.

Overall, there are enough memorable scenes (the chaotic ones) here to say itís a worthwhile read. Also, Harrison deserves a little heaping of praise for swimming into murky waters (the novelís dark content). Itís refreshing to see a family who doesnít have the white picket fence and an existence reminiscent of the Bradyís or the Cleaverís, where all their problems seem to disappear into thin air.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Bobby Blades, 2005

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