Dr. Eric Weston, this novel's main character, is, at the age of 60, a divorced psychoanalyst/sex guru with a Beverly Hills office and a Marina del Rey condo. In his books and lectures he tells people to do whatever feels good. To Eslaen trainees, devotees of human-potential scams, and other eternal counterculturists and me-freaks, he is a high priest on a par with Norman O. Brown and Fritz ("You are your and I am I./ And if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful") Perls. He also has a rewarding personal and sexual life with Sonya, "a widow, 10 years younger, of Slavic womanliness and lively temperament." In the words of a New Yorker cartoonist, "It's not all peaches and cream out there, but it's mostly peaches and cream."
Rest assured it doesn't last -- otherwise there's no novel. The passion goes out of the doctor's lovemaking, Sonya packs her bags, and by and by the doctor discovers that in his unresolved lust for his 30-year-old daughter lies the key to his woes. He first recognizes this desire for what it is when he finds himself aroused during a therapy session with a friend of his daughter's. fSeeing her as a "surrogate daughter," he fights off his lust. But when the daughter herself arrives from New York to pay him an extended visit and confesses that the incestuous urge is mutual, they do the dirty deed, which feels very good indeed.
Though not in retrospect. Soon the doctor is guilt-ridden and impotent. True, Freud himself said that it's possible incest could be harmless "in individual exceptional cases" for someone "who has escaped the influence of the phylogenetic repressions," and if the doctor isn't such a case, who is? People pay him, after all, to free them of repressions and inhibitions and guilts, and he has built a big reputation by saying anything goes as long as no one gets hurt.
But no! His guilt tells him no. Free Love has been a false and immoral god. What's more, his deplorable relationship with his daughter is a natural extension of his whole misled life. He had always shirked the responsibilities of fatherhood. He should have been more of a guiding force to his daughter. Then maybe her two marriages wouldn't have failed, since she wouldn't have felt driven to seek the father figure that he had never been. He might even have swayed her from some of the worst aspects of the pot-and-pap culture she fell into.
He hadn't even been true to himself, let alone to his daughter. His own father started it all. When he came to New York from Germany in 1913 he changed his name from Weinstein to Weston and abandoned his Jewish heritage. cThen his son, the future sex guru, had started his own shameful betrayal of his noble heritage by changing his name from Elias to Eric when he entered high school.
Well, no more living these lies. No more shirking moral responsibility. Not for him the way of Aschenbach, hero of Thomas Mann's "Death in Venice," who wasted away after yielding to his degenerate passion for a young Polish boy. The doctor would return to the values of his Jewish heritage. Eric Weston would return to being Elias Weinstein.
Things progress through scenes interwoven in the mind of the doctor. There are a few overwrought moments and some strained dialogue, as when the daughter leaps to the defense of her generation with, "We thought hot thoughts and opened our petals, like spring flowers who have no choice." But there are also some genuinely poignant moments, and, considering the sentimental traps he could have falled into, Blanakfort handles things quite well.
On the whole, though, it's hard to see how anyone can deeply empathize with the doctor's moral regeneration without seeing the world as an opportunity to decipher a vast bundle of Freudian complexes. Freud didn't win his place in history by calling a cigar a cigar, and the lesson has not been lost on the legions of novelists he influenced. The present novel is a classic case in point. The author takes for granted that the reader will find meaning in such phrases as "unconscious suppressions" and "latent maschistic guilt," and perhaps shout "Eureka!" when finding such pearls from the psychodynamic depths as "The ego's withdrawal . . . creates a vacuum to call attention to itself, a kind of reverse voyeurism" and "The ego is almost nonviable while the hunger for self-identity is unappesable."
If you are such a reader, you may be deeply moved. But otherwise you may soon get a bellyful of the gropings of the doctor and the self-obsessed muddleheads who gather around him to Find Themselves.