The Listener: A Psychoanalyst Examines His Life

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9780393047837: The Listener: A Psychoanalyst Examines His Life

As a psychoanalyst, Alan Wheelis has helped many patients understand themselves and cope with the legacies of trauma or obsession that shape the neurotic personality. Here he uses his own life for the same process of discovery. The story begins with his parents' life of poverty in rural Texas. When Wheelis was a small boy, his father contracted tuberculosis. He spent several years dying, exercising a tyrannical control over his family. In one searing scene, Wheelis is made to cut the lawn with a razor, a task that occupies every day of his summer. Timidity, insecurity and a cloyingly close connection to his mother mark Wheelis' efforts to establish himself in the adult world. When trying to write a novel as a young man, he falls mysteriously ill. Eventually he realizes that he has "made" himself ill so that his failure to write can be excused. This perception leads him to the study of medicine and eventually psychiatry. As Wheelis turns his explanatory lens on the dark corners of his own life, we come to understand how a gift for analysis - like a gift for prophecy - brings little comfort to its possessor and no guarantee of happiness.

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About the Author:

Allen Wheelis lives and practices in San Francisco. He is the author of many books, among them How People Change.

From Kirkus Reviews:

Now in his 80s, Wheelis offers a sometimes pungent memoir of his boyhood and later life. Though his mother lives to be nearly 100 and figures most prominently in this brief volume (Wheelis recycles some incidents from his earlier memoir, The Life and Death of My Mother, 1992), its his father, who died young, whose portrait emerges most strongly. A domineering man, Morris Wheelis ruled the household from his sickbed on the enclosed porch of the family home in San Antonio, Tex., where he spent years laid up with tuberculosis. In order to teach his young son a lesson in responsibility, one summer Mr. Wheelis made young Allen trim the lawnblade by blade, on his hands and knees, with a hand-held razor, because the family was too poor to have a mower. It took him virtually an entire summer, a summer he longed to spend playing ball with his friends. It was one of Allens earliest lessons in longingfor it is longing that this psychoanalyst believes is at the core of our being, it is the hidden reality.'' Wheeliss account of his early life is is peppered with viscerally felt scenes. But the account of his later life, of his second marriage (his first he passes over with a mere mention), of the impossibility of achieving a true union with his wife, of her pursuit of him and his efforts to escape into work, is inherently more diffuse and pale. He says of his wife, Ilse, Herself a psychoanalyst, she had a gift for intimacy, and when the days work was done wanted only to be with me, while I, hurting still from an ancient wound, was driven to search for a meaning that would heal the wound. . . . Still, the memoir ends on a note of affirmation of the centrality of lovebut it lacks the emotional force of the earlier scenes of yearning. -- Copyright 1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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