Washington Post Book World
Blake's Therapyby Ariel Dorfman
When Graham Blake - model parent, marketing guru of the hugely successful Clean Earth, Inc. - suffers a mental breakdown, he checks into the Corporate Life Therapy Institute, where the self-assured, silver-tongued Dr. Carl Tolgate has prepared a strange, shocking, and erotic treatment. Caught in a voyeuristic spiral involving a mysterious Latina, Blake tries… See more details below
When Graham Blake - model parent, marketing guru of the hugely successful Clean Earth, Inc. - suffers a mental breakdown, he checks into the Corporate Life Therapy Institute, where the self-assured, silver-tongued Dr. Carl Tolgate has prepared a strange, shocking, and erotic treatment. Caught in a voyeuristic spiral involving a mysterious Latina, Blake tries desperately to find out, before it is too late, who is controlling his life, his company's future, and his own heart.
A work of intense psychological intrigue, Blake's Therapy holds a magnifying glass to one man's life as it unravels in a world of economic turmoil and spiritual crisis, reality-TV, and genetic engineering, finally questioning the very nature of storytelling in our time.
Washington Post Book World
- Seven Stories Press
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- A SEVEN ST
- Product dimensions:
- 5.79(w) x 8.56(h) x 0.74(d)
Read an Excerpt
I want you to take a good look at him I want you to take a good lazy look at Graham Blake True, you'll get tired of looking at him during this coming month of therapy. Some of you may get tired of having him look at you. But now's the chance, now that there's no pressure and you haven't met our new patient yet, go ahead, spend some time with him at your leisure, plunge into him. Before he walks through that door and turns his considerable charms on you and you begin to entertain doubts as to whether he really requires this painful treatment I have prescribed for him.
You can see the answer by yourselves: Blake is a sick man, a man broken, delirious, needing our help more than he can divine. Just watch him pack his bags for this trip to our Clinic. Can you recognize the symptoms? The way the fingers shakeonly the index finger firmas he smooths the shirts, discards the blue-and-white striped tie his lover's given him for Christmas, stares at that tie for several seconds as if it were about to snake up and sting him. Remark how he retrieves it with a hand that cannot stop trembling, folds it uncertainly, can't fit it into the bag so it won't crumple. Look at how he waves away the valetthat's Hector, who's trying to be of assistanceangrily shoos him out the door, sinks onto the bed, our Graham takes his head in his hands as if it were about to rolls off a cliff, those hands rubbing downward to the eyes, massaging eyes that have not slept in so many days that he's lost count. But we haven't. Lost count, I mean. We know it's been ninety-five days that he hasn't managed morethan one or two hours a night, some nights nothing at all. Staying up till dawn, even knockout pills only working for a few minutes and then he's up again, desperate drunken eyes wide open, sitting rigid for hours in the dark just like he's sitting now, those slender pianist fingers of his scraping and stroking his temples, the headache that will not go away. Ninety-five days exactly since that headache kicked in, the everlasting midnights, his crisis, his rage at himself and everything. His doubts, his endless self-doubts.
Now look at how our future patient calls Hector in, apologizes for having lost his temper, lets the valet carefully take care of the clothes, the tie, how Graham Blake twitches his head ironically when Hector asks him if he'll be needing condoms. Is that a yes? Is that a no? Even Blake is not clear what he himself answered. What is clear is how he smiles now at his valet. See that smile? It changes his whole face, it's easy to understand why Hector likes his boss, would do anything to make him happy, why we have to be wary of falling under Blake's influence while he's here.
Conclusions, just from this snap of a scene?
Graham Blake is a man used to giving orders. Graham Blake does not like mistreating others, especially subordinates. Graham Blake has more charm than is good for him, he covers up his mistakes with that smile, since he's been a child he's smiled his way out of every mistake he's ever made. Graham Blake may be used, therefore, to getting what he wants, but isn't willing to pay the price. He cares, perhaps excessively, about how the world perceives him, what others say about him.
So this is going to take some time. The treatment. Longer than he expects, longer than I let on when I apprised him at the end of our inaugural session of the extreme measures necessary to remedy his quasi-terminal anguish, relieve him of the condition that medical journals in the future may well call Tolgate's syndrome.
So. Who is this man?
Graham Blake, forty-three years old. Mother died when he was six. Father died when he was eighteen. Two children, one boy, one girl. Divorced. Happily divorced. Meaning it was a good divorce. No cheating on his wife, no beating up on each other, no lawsuits. No bickering in front of the kids, Thomas and Georgina, cute little things, later you can take a look at some outtakes from home movies, courtesy of Graham Blake, model parent. A perfect divorce, perfect and quick like most things in Graham Blake's quick life. Not that he had much choice: He was in partnership, still is, with his wife, Jessica Owen, bioengineer. Kept her maiden name. Yes. A woman bioengineer, specializing in gene manipulation. You must have come across her name. A genius. Candidate for a double Nobel, in Medicine and in Chemistry And might even bag the Nobel Peace Prize to boot. Not her only attributes: Take a glance at this photo. Not a bad looker, huh? That intensity, that high forehead, those cheekbones, nice full body too, works out for two hours each morning. Mens sana, etc. Because she is the brains of the Company. Oh, he's smart, but not as smart as she is. Indispensable, however, our Graham. So far. So far.
He's the organizer, the partner who's able to tap into the dreams and desires of a billion potential clients, the marketing gurubeen selling a benign image of himself to others since he was a youngster, been selling a similar image of his products, his Company, Solving the Energy Crisis, Solving the Food Crisis, Solving the Health Crisis. But he only really took off, flourished, left the heavy load of his past behind, when Jessica swept into his life, at a time they were both doing post-grad work at Stanford. Jessica Owen injected the scientific know-how into Clean Earth that made it a corporate leader in biodiversity, global excellence, responsibility. "We Change Mother Earth Without Hurting Her." Whatever that means, it works. Success, esteemed colleagues and staff, is what works. For Graham Blake, for us.
And for Jessica Owen, she's the one, after all, who made Graham Blake, turned him into who he is. She's been like a mother to him, the mother he lost as a child. When Graham Blake met her, he was the owner of one dump of a factory that manufactured traditional cosmetic and herbal products here in Philadelphia. Yes, right here, ladies and gentlemen, in this very city where we await him, where he'll be heading as soon as Hector finishes packing, as soon as he's said good-bye to Natasha. There she is, Natasha, Blake's lover, on the screen, he's not happy about leaving her for a month, he's not happy about being separated from those flashing eyes, those breasts, even if he hasn't fondled them lately, can barely manage to bring himself to touch her skin, caress her rump. You can be sure he did not readily agree to our demand that he come alone to Philadelphia, the city where his father's old factory is still chugging along, not two miles south of here, in a less affluent neighborhood, of course, than ours. Jessica Owen used the slim profits from the soap, the make-up creams, the herb concoctions of that factory to build the Blake empire. Now they produce, in twenty-two locations in these United States, an array of vitamins, herbal wonders, stimulants, floral essences, Magical Foods, Enchanted Nutrients, Oils for the Soul, Youth Pills, the Over-and-Over-Again Supplements that have enhanced our sexuality, the Miracle Muscle Potions for joggers with weak knees. And the Time-Stretchers, oh yes, those energy pills that make you work faster all the while slowing down with herbs your perception of normal time? Our Graham invented the names, packaged the goods, identified the needs, but it is his wifeformer wife who made it all possible, first through her own lab work and later by approaching the academic researchers at anthropology departments at the major universities and soon after that their Botany and Forestry and Environmental Studies programs. She enlisted professors and graduate students to become the gatherers and collectors of seeds and plants, purveyors of flowers and leaves, from the Amazon, Borneo, Zambia. Then Blake came up with the winning formula, pasted it on every billboard: "The Earth Knows the Answer." I'm telling you, be careful of Blake, beware of his imagination. Just look at the toys that he invented, the family of plastic rainforest monkeys free with every purchase, the rainbow of birds on cereal covers for the children and the dancing iguanas on the vitamin supplements for sick women and the movie tie-ins and the cds with live animal sounds combined with native chanting and rock stars chiming in and the eco-computers-into-schools project and the amusement parks. And then Graham convinced his board of directors to branch out into spas and eco-tourism and an array of Rainbow Hotels.
THE COMPANY THAT SAVED THE RAINFORESTremember that cover on Time magazine? Graham Blake is interviewed in that number. The editor explains that there is no photo of the CEO because Blake did not allow any to be snappedfurther proof, if any were needed, of his modesty. Or was it something else, hiding inside that man who doesn't flaunt his image? Not that he thinks so. "I do not deserve," he declared with surprising frankness, "any special recognition. It's a matter of survival. What's good for the earth, is good for the Company. If there aren't trees, roots, shrubs, there can be no extraction. No extraction and this Company goes bankrupt. It's that simple."
So how did things go wrong? Exactly what happened ninety-five days ago, when his crisis began? The details matter only marginally. You've seen the problem enough in the last years. Prosperity leads to overexpansion and cutthroat competition from rival firms with lower costs and less personnel benefits and aggressive outsourcing to India and Brazil. Then a sharp drop in demand from Asia, bankruptcies in Latin America, diminished returns from European outlets, and suddenly no liquidity to pay for loans. So Blake's Company was in a weakened position when none other than Hank Granger mounted a hostile takeover. You may recall that Mr. Granger has been for several years to acquire a Company that would offer him a chance to dean up his tarnished corporate image. Clean Earth fit the bill. Let me say no more. As we have all had the chance in the past to get acquainted with Mr. Granger's methods ...
Graham Blake, in order to keep Clean Earth out of Mr. Granger's eager hands, was forced to downsize, rid himself of many trusted employees. Too late. Because Blake had held up this overdue internal restructuring for far too long, he could not avoid his board's peremptory demand to close down one of his two Philadelphia operations and relocate it to Mexico. His decision, when it came exactly ninety-five days ago, made no economic sense: He uprooted the more recent, high-tech plant, the profitable one, and kept open the original cosmetics and herb factory, with its obsolete technology, its astronomical deficit, its safety accidents.
Accused of having too soft a heart by the board, Blake argued that this was a great public relations ploy: It would show Clean Earth as a Company that stood by its gut loyalties, did not abandon its origins or the solidarity ethics of the rainforest communities that were the ultimate source of its riches, at the very moment when the Company was, in fact, doing the opposite, moving abroad in search of more profits, succumbing to the bottom-line rationale it had sworn never to embrace.
What he did not say, what Jessica Owen harshly berated him for later in no uncertain termsyou can watch the exchange on tape at your conveniencewas that he was deluding himself. He was saving that old factory for purely sentimental reasons: It was the one where his past lay, where he got started before he met her. He wanted, she said, to hold on to one thing that she had not touched, upgraded, changed. And this gem: "You're just postponing what you always knew you'd have to do. Destroy your past. The hard choice. Growing up, Graham. Growing up is the really hard choice."
The board of directors also questioned his judgment, although Blake finally charmed them into agreement. "We have been worrying about hurting the earth," one faithful member who'd reluctantly sided with Blake is reported to have said on his way out of the meeting. "Maybe it's time to worry more about hurting our stockholders."
One would think that Graham Blake's principled stand ("I will not sit by and condone the ravaging of the lives of workers and employees here in our country, the erosion of Company loyalty the damage to Clean Earth's image, in order to pursue illusory profits beyond the borders of America"look at his clenched telegenic jaw, the gloss in his eyes, that dangerous smile of his when he confronts Jessica afterward in his office), one might have predicted that such a stance would calm his conscience, leave it like the surface of a lake on a windless day, all misgivings about his morality put to rest. No such thing. That very night brings his first bout of insomnia and the next day, with his head exploding, he makes a series of hasty business transactions that Jessica Owen is able to block before their potentially calamitous implementation.
An example? Certainly.
Do you remember the first time any of you stepped into your bathroom at a hotel and saw a sign suggesting you make the right ecological choice and reuse your towels rather than having them replaced? Yes. You know: Be a good world citizen while you dry yourself. Graham Blake was the mastermind behind that idea, now adopted everywhere: a way of saving, tree, an enormous amount of energy and electricity. But what heand the managers of hotelsnever informed the guests was how that also meant reducing the cost of washing and resupplying the towels. Well, that first day of crisis Blake wanted to call a press conferenceBlake, who hated publicity, who didn't want his picture anywhere, who never shows himselfBlake wanted to announce a new Transparency Campaign: from now on the Rainbow Hotels were going to pass on to the guests themselves the profits made by recycling the towels. Just one example of Blake's anguish "Transparency Campaign?" Jessica thundered. "Call it by its name, a Stupidity Campaign, that's what it is. A Corporate Suicide Campaign." And she nixed it.
And that's how it went for the next three months, the same pattern of Blake behaving erratically, unpredictably, and Jessica blocking each irresponsible decision. But it wasn't only his business acumen that began to suffer and go sour, but his personal life, his sex life in particular. Here, take a look at this video: no erection despite the voluptuous promptings of Natasha, again his head in his hands as he sits on the bed, this time naked and limp, trapped in some turmoil that he can barely manage to convey.
But convey it he finally does. Watch. Let me reiterate his words carefully so we don't miss the nuances. "Do you think I'm a good man?" Note the little-boy plaintiveness with which he asks this of Natasha a few nights later after another of their unsatisfactory sexual clinches has ended in defeat.
And Natasha's crucial answer: "The best," she says, and means it. The best man in the world. The most generous. High drama.
"No, really," Graham Blake asks again. "Good not because it looks good. Good because it comes from inside, deep inside."
And she reassures him. She dutifully points out how Clean Earth pioneers ways of saving the environment in faraway lands, is working on eliminating another famine in Ethiopia, and even so, he never takes any credit. She strokes his ego and tries to stroke his body. To no avail. An indication of? That's right: that he's obsessed not with what he did but with what he may yet do. Haunted by an ethical question that lies not in the past hut ahead, in the future.
Watch this series of sequential photos, so similar to those you've seen of our other patients, the same Immorality Syndrome that I hope will someday bear my name in the annals of medicine. Watch how Graham Blake begins to agethose are real gray hairs he is trying to dye brown. Watch him hop, like our other desperate clients, from one doctor to another, from psychologist to psychiatrist to accupuncturist to homeopathic herbal expert, a constellation of quacks who do not have the formula because only we have it at this Institute. Watch the obvious, the inevitable: How things deteriorate at the office, how he strikes Thomas, his eldest child, and then enshrouds him with kisses. Watch how in the course of one morning he fires and then subsequently rehires his secretary, Miss Jenkins, buys her flowers, raises her salary, throws the coffee she brings him across the room because it has a tad too much creamneed I go on? It's the same sorry story of so many chief executives who flounder through identical trials and tribulations before they are steered to us.
Graham Blake, in fact, is lucky. On average, it takes most patients ten to twelve months to detect our existence from the moment of their initial crisis. Of course, we'd been monitoring Blake's case for a while, since signs first surfaced and information was passed on that he would soon be coming our way. Blake took a shortcut to us courtesy of Sam Halneck, whom I am sure you all remember. Mr. Halneck, who sailed through our therapy clinic with flying colors and looks twenty years younger now than when he entered for his treatment, having entirely overcome any guilt feelings an overanxious mother and a sneering step-father instilled in him at an early age, happens to be Graham Blake's best friendand he and his wife, Miriam, along with Natasha, of course, and not to forget Jessica Owen with her ultimatum-they all convinced Blake that he should visit me, that Dr. Carl Tolgate would cure him of all this nonsense.
Which brings us to one last item. Money.
Notice now how Blake, before leaving the penthouse, peels off several hundred-dollar bills, slips them into Hector's pocket unobtrusively, does not want to embarrass his valet. Pays him back for that outburst we witnessed just a short while ago. So it would seem that our subject does not give a damn about money, couldn't care less. If you ask him for ten, he'll give you twenty. Let me click on another scene now, while Graham Blake goes down in the elevator, Hector, of course, carrying his bags. Look at this: It's when I explained our fees to him. You deposit three million dollars with us in escrow. Except for ten percent, which goes to cover expenses, no questions asked, we won't touch the rest of the sum until the end of your month and only if you are totally satisfied. We are as sure, Mr. Blake, of our products as you are of yours. You sell a Clean Earth. We sell a Clean Conscience.
You see. You see how he does not allow the slightest doubt or demurral to creep into his wrist, his elbow, the tips of his fingers, as he signs that check for three million dollars. Of course, he knew I was looking at him, he knew my eye was upon him, he might even have suspected that a camera was rolling in my consulting room. Though he has no idea that he is being filmed right now as he leaves his home to pick up his flight from Houston and fly here, no idea that last night, for instance, he was being taped at dinner. Here, let me fastforward to the moment when Sam Halneck is ordering the best wine on the menu. A Château Lafitte, is it? Costs around $350. Graham is paying. Graham is smiling. You see that smile? Beware of that smile. But now he turns sharply and the camera captures his eyes narrowing, now that his face is away from Sam and Sam's wife, Miriam, and Natasha, now that they can't observe him, look at how Graham's eyes narrow and darken. It's not stinginess. He can afford hundreds of bottles like that one. He could buy the whole restaurant, he might even own it already. The darkness ruffling his eyes: If I can indulge in a metaphor, it's as if a bird flies into a windowpane and falls to the ground inside those eyes. A flower fading inside the mother of his eyes. That momentary darkness, that quickly dispelled darkness, is a sign that he is worried that others will take advantage of his goodwill toward all men. Though there may be something more unsettling, deeper than my immediate diagnosis indicates. The snap of his fingers as he pays the bill, that impatience and self-assurance. Not that he expects attention right away. He expects it before he snaps his fingers. He expects others to guess what he wants before he even knows it himself. Instant satisfaction. Satisfaction before he can formulate the desire.
Now. Rewind to that moment just now when he deposited those bills in Hector's pocket. Look at his hands. There is a slight quivering as the bills go into the pocket, our camera picks up that trembling touch that Graham Blake himself is unaware of. A tremor that tells us that we cannot be sure how Graham Blake would react if he were not to possess that money, if he were to face a situation where he might forfeit the possibility of paying for a vintage wine from thirty years ago, or of leaving several hundred dollars as a tip, or be unable to buy two horses for his kids as going-away presents, do without the original Francis Bacon painting that hangs over the bed he fruitlessly shares with Natasha. If he did not have the chance to fill the void around him and inside him by easily spreading his charitable wings, doing good, solving the food crisis, answering the energy crisis, brilliantly intervening in the towel crisis, what would happen if he could not think the world of himself as he is saving the world and the Amazon Indians. Just something for you all to chew on.
Any doubts? Dilemmas? Moral reservations?
Now is the time to bring them up. Now that he's only an image on this screen. Once he's materialized, once he steps across that threshold in the flesh and begins to hate where he is and announces that what we are proposing is immoral and that he's leaving immediately, once he decides a few hours later, as all our patients do, to stay, once he is sucked into the vortex of his therapy and sees it through to its inevitable and illuminating endthen there will be no time to repent or pull out, then I don't expect any of you to protest to me that you can't stand another minute of this. Our sloganread it carefully, memorize it: "If the Patient Can Stand It, So Can the Therapists." The whole gang of you. Is that clear?
Just remember. This is all being doneevery last horrible thingfor his own good.
We're going to save Graham Blake in spite of himself.
Meet the Author
ARIEL DORFMAN is considered to be one of “the greatest Latin American novelists” (Newsweek) and one of the United States’ most important cultural and political voices. Dorfman's numerous works of fiction and nonfiction have been translated into more than thirty languages, including Death and the Maiden, which has been produced in over one hundred countries and made into a film by Roman Polanski. Dorfman has won many international awards, including the Sudamericana Award, the Laurence Olivier, and two from the Kennedy Center. He is distinguished professor at Duke University and lives in Durham, North Carolina.
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