Protagonist: Dr. Stratham Younger
Setting: New York City, 1909
In the book’s beginning, the author tells us the story is loosely based on Sigmund Freud’s real-life visit to the United States, where he was invited to speak at Clark University. The author says something traumatic happened to Freud during his visit; afterward, he referred to Americans as savages and blamed them for his lifelong ailments, many of which he had before his trip. Using that, the author spins a fictional murder case.
A young heiress is found bound and strangled in a New York City penthouse; the next day, a 17-year-old girl from another well-to-do family survives a similar attempt on her life. The girl, Nora Acton, has lost her ability to speak and doesn’t remember what happened to her. Dr. Younger, a fictional psychoanalyst, is asked to work with Nora to retrieve her memories. He’s also been shepherding Freud around New York City, and seeks advice from the famed psychoanalyst. Younger’s involvement deepens from the initial therapy sessions, and he joins Detective Jimmy Littlemore in unraveling the many threads of this complicated case.
Overall, I liked this book, especially the vibrant scenes portraying New York City in the early 1900s, and the historical detail. But the book had some major flaws: the story switches from third person to first person, sometimes abruptly. It was so jarring that it cut into my enjoyment of the book. Also, we’re given to believe in the beginning that Freud is a major character in the book. But as the story progresses, he’s seen less and less often. Lastly, the early parts of the book read at times like a thesis on Freud and Jung; there’s so much detail on the psychoanalysts (some of it interesting, granted) that it bogs down the main mystery.
And yet, I did like this book. And I will probably pick up Rubenfeld’s second book, the recently released The Death Instinct, which has some characters returning. I’m interested in seeing where the author takes them.