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Dr. Neruda's Cure for Evil

Dr. Neruda's Cure for Evil

by Rafael Yglesias

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When one of his successfully treated patients commits a vicious murder and then kills himself, a preeminent New York City psychotherapist embarks on a desperate personal mission to discover the root causes of the crime—a mission that will bring him face-to-face with the true nature of evil.


When one of his successfully treated patients commits a vicious murder and then kills himself, a preeminent New York City psychotherapist embarks on a desperate personal mission to discover the root causes of the crime—a mission that will bring him face-to-face with the true nature of evil.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Yglesias (Fearless; Only Children) shows great respect for the attention span of readers in an ambitious therapeutic morality tale that explores the banality of evil. In the first of the book's three sections, the narrator, psychiatrist Dr. Rafael Neruda, traces his childhood from happiness through trauma to rebirth via therapy. Yglesias does an expert turn on Neruda's disintegrating relationship with his charismatic Cuban father and his Jewish mother, who descends into insanity and incestuous abuse. (Yglesias's choice of his protagonist's given name and his parents' ethnic origins is provocative in light of his own parentage.) The second part is a case history of Gene Kenny, a patient of Neruda's, who has also suffered childhood abuse. Over the course of several yearsand several hundred pagesof careful and inspired talk therapy, Neruda manages to cure Kenny of his basic neuroses. Then, in accordance with the novel's central philosophical argument, Neruda discovers that these neuroses are part of the basic equipment of life. Kenny's "cure," it turns out, has in fact hobbled himso much so that he commits a terrible crime. Then, in the novel's third section, Neruda steps out of the protective bubble of the analytic hour and into the rubble of Kenny's life in order to discover what he did wrong and to try to make it right. Becoming a participant rather than a clinician, Neruda insinuates himself into the high-tech firm where Kenny worked. There, he discovers that the sadistically manipulative CEO and his femme fatale daughter are playing out their own incestuous psychodrama on each other and on any one who gets in their path, including Neruda. He also discovers that they're perfectly happythat, although they are textbook cases of psychological infirmity, they are, in fact, superbly functional. In short, they're evil. But Neruda insists on seeing this in medical rather than moral terms. Whether this approach is viable provides the novel with its suspensea suspense that is more conceptual than plot-driven. Yglesias renders his characters with remarkably exhaustive psychological depth. But it comes at a price. For all the clinical persuasiveness of the characterization, there's not a lot of drama. This, combined with prose that is merely functional, renders the novel, despite its significant intelligence and ambition, a long haul more satisfying in theory than in practice. Major ad/promo; film rights to 20th Century Fox. (July)
Library Journal
In the latest work from Yglesias (Fearless, 4/1/93), a psychiatrist struggles with the problem of evil in this ambitious novel of ideas. Rafael Neruda, a "red-diaper baby" of the 1950s, suffers a traumatic, abusive childhood. Years later, having triumphed over his problems to become a doctor, he must confront the limits of traditional therapy when Gene Kenny, a patient he has "cured," inexplicably commits a shocking crime. Neruda's attempt to understand leads to Hyperion, Inc., the computer company where Kenny worked, and into the confidences of Stick Copley, the sadistic CEO, and Halley, his narcissistic daughter. Faced with two seemingly normal people who do great harm to others, Neruda develops a radical treatment for what he terms evil syndrome. This brilliant, richly layered novel should wind up on many lists of the year's best books. Highly recommended.-Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, Andover, Mass.
Robert Spillman
Nearly everything about Dr. Neruda's Cure for Evil -- from its heft (704 pages of tiny type) and ambition (a psychotherapist attempts to rid people of evil) to its hype ("a truly monumental work," the dust jacket proclaims) -- screams that this is a potential masterpiece. Don't believe the hype or the heft, however; this is a rather plain, dull, very long book that shouldn't take up room on anyone's ride to the beach.

Dr. Neruda, the book's narrator, tells his story in plodding, deliberate fashion -- it's a bit like sitting through 100 therapy sessions with only one in 20 revealing anything interesting. The novel's first third unfurls Dr. Neruda's childhood, and while there is some interesting stuff (his Spanish father runs off to Cuba to defend Fidel's revolution, leaving his Jewish mother to crack up, sexually molest Neruda, then kill herself), it's a deadly mistake to expect the reader to wait 240 meandering pages before meeting the pivotal character. And when we do meet Gene Kenny, one of Dr. Neruda's first cases, he is a weasely, uninteresting computer geek who Neruda himself doesn't much like. After a great deal of therapy, Neruda declares Gene "cured" of his neurosis brought on by "psychological incest," but Gene -- without his neurotic crutch -- goes berserk and kills his wife and himself. Neruda feels compelled to leave his office to ferret out the evil forces that conspired against himself and Gene.

It turns out that Gene's boss (and the boss' narcissistic daughter) tormented the poor hapless Gene, and after he went through therapy he was too weak to fight them. Neruda insinuates himself into the tormentors' lives and sets about "curing" them of their evil ways, whether they like it or not. Never mind the theme of "therapy uber alles," this book is swamped by its numerous other flaws -- a pretentious "genius" for a narrator, a central subject who is a simp and endless digressions (about the Yankees and Dodgers, about Jewish law, about the politics of Cuba), all of which add nothing but dead weight to an already leaden book. --Salon

Kirkus Reviews
Gripping, deep-delving psychological novel that offers a new path in analysis but can't sustain the melodrama implied in its title.

Intelligent, straightforward storytelling and brilliant characterization mark each Yglesias novel. Enriched by a powerful spiritual fantasy, 1993's Fearless asked the reader how he'd act if he returned from death stripped of every mortal fear. The author's latest never steams death's mirror as strongly but does remain taut and adult while asking, Can psychiatry provide a cure for evil? The answer hangs on the inspired agility of Dr. Rafael Guillermo Neruda, once a wonderchild like Yglesias himself (who published his first novel at 16). Neruda is a well-known, respectably published child psychiatrist who runs a New York clinic for abused children. His own childhood was marked by incest and violence, a mother who bedded him as a little boy and later immolated herself, and a supremely narcissistic, demanding father of Spanish background, against whom young Rafe testified. Now, Rafe's life begins to change when he accepts Gene Kenney, a wimpy, abused, disruptive teenager, as a patient. Rafe dislikes him but treats him for over a decade. Eventually, Gene becomes head of R&D for a successful, heartless computer manufacturer. But when Rafe strips him of his last neurotic defense, the liberated but defenseless Gene can't bear his calamities and escapes through murder/suicide. This personal "failure" propels Rafe into hiring out as a consultant to Gene's computer company and attempting a groundbreaking cure of its "evil" owner and his icy, man-eating daughter, both of whom have suffered childhood trauma similar to Rafe's own. His treatment will both succeed and fail.

No sentence by Yglesias is particularly memorable; it's his analysis of power and sex that draws one on. Unlike Fearless, this is not a story one lingers over. But the strong plot keeps us fascinated and reading.

Product Details

Grand Central Publishing
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.55(d)

Meet the Author

Rafael Yglesias (b. 1954) is a master American storyteller whose career began with the publication of his first novel, Hide Fox, and All After, at seventeen. Through four decades Yglesias has produced numerous highly acclaimed novels, including Fearless, which was adapted into the film starring Jeff Bridges and Rosie Perez. He lives on New York City’s Upper East Side.

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