The Treatment (Magill Book Reviews)
Life’s “imponderables” and “brute circumstances” are among key words and phrases Jake Singer, novelist Daniel Menaker’s maturing hero, applies to the lessons life (and his therapist) have taught him.
Menaker picks up Jake’s story in the 1970’s. At thirty-two, still burdened by the early loss of his mother and lately estranged from his cardiologist father and one girlfriend after another, the hero regards himself as trapped in mediocrity and futility. For four years he has been a deceptively reluctant client at the mercy of Dr. Ernesto Morales—bearded, Cuban, and cunning—whose prurient interrogations are usually on the mark. Jake’s every move and mood must be monitored by Morales.
When Jake strikes up a tryst with a wealthy widow named Allegra, Dr. Morales becomes intrusive to a fault. A complicated subplot rings in Sarah Gibson, a star-crossed woman from the Berkshires—a character whose main function is to be the unwed mother of an infant named Emily whom the widowed Allegra has adopted. In his zeal to demonstrate Jake’s often brilliantly expressed sense that in life the unexpected stifles the rational, Menaker relies on dubious ploys. Sarah marries a possessive young lawyer who convinces her she must reclaim Emily. Jake and Allegra unite in frustrating the once-again betrayed Sarah’s half-hearted bid. A retrospective finale reveals happy endings for all but the lawyer whose settlement frees Sarah.
(The entire section is 332 words.)
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The Treatment (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
The Treatment is Daniel Menaker’s first novel, but he is no rookie. The author of two critically well-received short-story collections and for five years a senior editor at Random House after twenty-five years under three editors at The New Yorker, the fifty-seven-year-old Menaker, like E. L. Doctorow, may be out of sequence as a novelist, but he is never out of synch. In fact, The Treatment is so deftly crafted thematically as to risk undermining its characters, with one notable and saving exception.
Life’s “imponderables” and “brute circumstances” are among the key words and phrases Jake Singer, Menaker’s maturing hero, applies to the less-than- anguishing lessons life (and his therapist) have taught him. Sooner or later, experience shatters any presupposition that existence conforms to rational principles. Everyone’s end comes suddenly, but it is the unexpected in living—the snipping of even well-sewn threads—that, as Jake puts it seven years after the book’s main action, places him—and everyone—“at the mercy of something, even if that something is nothing but luck.”
This notion of a determined fortuity was more fashionable in the existentialist weariness of the 1950’s than at the end of the century. Menaker’s double life as novelist/editor undoubtedly leads, as he put it in a recent interview, to his sense of “the disparity between the way we comprehend and direct our lives and...
(The entire section is 1559 words.)