Dr. Neruda's Cure For Evil

Rob Spillman reviews Rafael Yglesias's novel "Dr. Neruda's Cure For Evil".

Published July 23, 1996 7:00PM (EDT)

Nearly everything about "Dr. Neruda's Cure for Evil" -- from its heft (704 pages of tiny type) and ambition (a psychotherapist attempts to rid people of evil) to its hype ("a truly monumental work," the dust jacket proclaims) -- screams that this is a potential masterpiece. Don't believe the hype or the heft, however; this is a rather plain, dull, very long book that shouldn't take up room on anyone's ride to the beach.

Dr. Neruda, the book's narrator, tells his story in plodding, deliberate fashion -- it's a bit like sitting through 100 therapy sessions with only one in 20 revealing anything interesting. The novel's first third unfurls Dr. Neruda's childhood, and while there is some interesting stuff (his Spanish father runs off to Cuba to defend Fidel's revolution, leaving his Jewish mother to crack up, sexually molest Neruda, then kill herself), it's a deadly mistake to expect the reader to wait 240 meandering pages before meeting the pivotal character. And when we do meet Gene Kenny, one of Dr. Neruda's first cases, he is a weasely, uninteresting computer geek who Neruda himself doesn't much like. After a great deal of therapy, Neruda declares Gene "cured" of his neurosis brought on by "psychological incest," but Gene -- without his neurotic crutch -- goes berserk and kills his wife and himself. Neruda feels compelled to leave his office to ferret out the evil forces that conspired against himself and Gene.

It turns out that Gene's boss (and the boss' narcissistic daughter) tormented the poor hapless Gene, and after he went through therapy he was too weak to fight them. Neruda insinuates himself into the tormentors' lives and sets about "curing" them of their evil ways, whether they like it or not. Never mind the theme of "therapy uber alles," this book is swamped by its numerous other flaws -- a pretentious "genius" for a narrator, a central subject who is a simp and endless digressions (about the Yankees and Dodgers, about Jewish law, about the politics of Cuba), all of which add nothing but dead weight to an already leaden book.

By Rob Spillman

Rob Spillman is editor of Tin House magazine.

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