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The Stethoscope Cure Paperback – April 25, 2014
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From the Author
After years of writing nonfiction books about the complexities of adult life, I have turned to fiction in order to dig deeper into how we renew our creativity and hopefulness while remaining loyal to the roles and responsibilities that we hold dear. The Stethoscope Cure centers on a young psychiatrist just holding on by a thread as he tries to deal with the flood of vets coming into a VA hospital during the Vietnam War. This is a time when I, too, came of age professionally, doing my internship in the Boston VA hospital in the late Sixties. The story is not a thinly-disguised rendering of my own experience, though it does draw on what I observed at the time. I am fascinated by the inner life of therapists, particularly the wonderful irony that we are often able to help other people when we are so dearly in need of help ourselves. The struggle of Dr. Paul Gilverstein--the novel's main character--to be true to himself and his experiences without abandoning his responsibilities to others (his patients and his marriage , in particular) is a central question for us all today. The Stethoscope Cure offers an exploration of what it means to really listen to someone else, to truly hear and respond to those we are involved with.
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The story of these two siblings is told to the protagonist of the novel, Paul Gilverstein, M.D., by redheaded Sally, a fellow Resident in Psychiatry (the sole female) who is having a “love affair” with the much older Raul who has been married but whose current marital status is unclear at the time of novel. In an Oedipal rivalry with Raul, Paul eventually manages to share an erotic kiss with Sally who maintains her loyalty to Raul. Sally tells a stark tale about Raul and Catherine-Annette.
Catherine-Annette suffered from severe depression as a young woman and the physicians in France could not solve the riddle of her emotional illness. Raul as a medical student took her to consult with Sigmund Freud
in Vienna in 1938 (before the Nazi annexation of Austria
and before Freud fled the continent for London, England
where he died in 1939). Sigmund Freud was around eighty-two years old when he consulted with Catherine-Annette, probably in her late twenties. Catherine-Annette left the consultation room in tears, presumably having been put in touch with her intense depression by Freud.
Freud recommended a psychoanalyst (presumably a male) in Paris for Catherine-Annette. The psychoanalysis had uneven results - the healing relationship lifted Catherine-Annette out of her depression for a period of time but then she arrived at 1940. The Germans invaded
France in May 1940, but Catherine-Annette decided to murder herself by hanging herself (breaking her neck and
asphyxiating) some months before that. Her family had
a country manor house. She selected a time when no one else was home and she attached the fatal rope to the
chandelier. Raul found her corpse and the suicide note in which she apologized to her brother (presumably for
murdering her self). Raul was about thirty-five at the time.
When the Germans invaded, he fought against them and
eventually left France for the U.S.A. never returning to his motherland.
This fateful narrative is thematic for this magnificent first novel crafted by Samuel Osherson who earned his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Harvard University. As a psychologist, the author has a masterful grasp of his
adjacent discipline, psychiatry.
Through his protagonist Dr. Osherson immerses his readers in this conflictual branch of physical medicine.
It turns out that Raul hates Freudian psychoanalysis,
no doubt because he blamed his sister’s self-murder on the failure of the healing relationship between psychoanalyst and patient (analysand). Paul Gilverstein
has found an advocate of psychoanalysis in Dorothy
Bainbridge, M.D., his assigned supervisor for his psychiatric training in dealing with individual patients.
Dr. Bainbridge is over ten years older than Raul Alazar.
She is in her seventies, and is taken away from Paul by that debilitating crab, Cancer. With her rather sudden death, psychoanalysis has lost its voice in the V.A.’s
Department of Psychiatry.
Death stalks the persons in this creative piece of art.
The author piles up the corpses for his reader. It is
not only beloved women like Catherine-Annette and
Dorothy Bainbridge whom Death harvests. Private
First Class Christopher Toltan, a double amputee (legs)
and a new patient at the V.A. for Paul Gilverstein, murders himself at age twenty-two by hanging himself in the Men’s
Room. Another patient of Dr. Gilverstein, Lionel Tool,
recounts his murder of a mother and her infant in a
horrific version of Lieutenant William Calley’s My Lai
Massacre in South Vietnam.
Psychohistory recounts the intersection of an individual life history with the historical epoch into which one is thrown. The author has done this precisely with his protagonist.
James Joyce selected a wandering Jew, Leopold Bloom, to lead us through June 16th, 1904, a Odyssey set in Dublin, Ireland. Dr. Osherson has selected a Jew, Paul Gilverstein, M.D., to guide us through the pathways that led us to the attempted genocide of “gooks” in Southeast Asia. Paul exposes us to the pogroms against Jews in
shtetls (villages) in Eastern Europe that go back centuries
and extends to the Nazi embrace of the Ultimate Solution for the Jewish Question (extermination, ethnic cleansing).
He does not back away from the violence of the Allied efforts to overturn certain dictators (Hitler and Mussolini,
but not Franco and Stalin) such as the fire bombing of
Dresden in Germany. He does not directly raise the issues of Hiroshima and Nagasaki but it is elementary for the reader to make the inference.
Paul struggles with issues of assimilation as a Jew into the wider American culture (read here, WASP culture with its
adherence to the God of Christianity who seems a bit distinct from Jahweh). True to America’s colonial history,
this hemisphere is founded on the brutal facts of invasion and genocide of the indigenous population. Naturally, Paul feels keen ambivalence about dedicating himself to the blind nationalism of arrogant patriotism.
Dr. Osherson uses Paul (with whom he can identify in part because of his own autobiography) as a literary Everyman
who discovers the existential reality of overwhelmingness (p. 350, 2014 first edition). Despite healthy attempts at humor as a defense mechanism against nihilism, Paul recognizes that the shadow energies described by Carl Gustav Jung haunt human nature and tarnish the angelic better part of our natures with demonic evil. Paul even
speculates about aborting his own child or giving it up for adoption by strangers. Dr. Osherson does not hide from the shadow aspects of his fictional characters.
Like James Joyce, however, he leaves us with the voice
of affirmation of Molly Bloom - a yes, yes, yes. This voice
is located, of course, in the voice of a Goddess. Yes,
even Jews fall in love with Goddesses (despite the fact that Jahweh has no Hera or Juno!!). Paul’s Goddess is
“Judy,” his pregnant lover/wife. Like Penelope, the wife
of the wandering Ulysses [remember Paul’s erotic kiss with Sally the redhead!], Judy is the Anima figure, the
anchor of his life. With her, Paul is able to face the future
and to nurture the next generation. Not a bad life history
after all, assuming that Paul and Judy and their “tadpole” can make the world a better place by reducing the intensity of the shadow energies that plague humankind.
This is a story about a physician and a patient, about a father and son, about a husband and a wife, about a group of doctors trying to get it right, but it's also a story about you and me. A great read by a wise man.
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This timely and relevant novel provides valuable insight into the complex...Read more