The Treatment

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Jake Singer is an anxious young schoolteacher in New York. Emotionally paralyzed by a case of the vapors, he embarks on a course of psychoanalysis with a maniacal Cuban-Catholic Freudian - Dr. Ernesto Morales, therapist from hell. When he meets socialite widow Allegra Marshall, and finds himself upwardly mobile in the Manhattan of serious money and glamour - as he bounces from the couch to Allegra's bed in the allegedly real world and back again - his whole life begins to take on the eerie, overdetermined quality...
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Overview

Jake Singer is an anxious young schoolteacher in New York. Emotionally paralyzed by a case of the vapors, he embarks on a course of psychoanalysis with a maniacal Cuban-Catholic Freudian - Dr. Ernesto Morales, therapist from hell. When he meets socialite widow Allegra Marshall, and finds himself upwardly mobile in the Manhattan of serious money and glamour - as he bounces from the couch to Allegra's bed in the allegedly real world and back again - his whole life begins to take on the eerie, overdetermined quality of an analytic session. While he struggles to resolve the psychic grudge he bears his parents, Jake becomes embroiled in another parental conflict - of a different kind and with even higher stakes - that may threaten the future of one of Allegra's adopted children. And if from his horizontal vantage point on Morales's couch Jake's world has started to feel suffocatingly predictable, life beyond the couch makes it clear that the world's true organizing principles are chance and accident: that the only indisputable axiom is happenstance.
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Editorial Reviews

Caroline Knapp

How do we grow up? In a random universe, where the course of our lives may be dictated less by personal agency than by chance, how do we make peace with the past and gain some measure of control over the future? And what role, if any, can therapy play in such struggles? Daniel Menaker addresses these questions with lively, intelligent wit in his debut novel, The Treatment, which tracks the progress, both on and off the couch, of 32-year-old Jake Singer, a passive, mildly depressed "urban anomic."

Singer is propelled into analysis by the standard contemporary frustrations: professional (he's an English teacher at a prestigious Manhattan prep school, contemptuous of his boss and uncertain about his future); romantic (his girlfriend has abandoned him); familial (he's unconsciously raging at his mother, who died when he was a boy, and at his father, a remote, alienating cardiologist). Leading him through this morass, three mornings a week, is one Dr. Ernesto Morales, a Cuban Catholic whirlwind of an analyst who's either a genius or a madman. Morales ravages Singer's defenses and the English language in equal measure: he calls Singer a "smart alex" and accuses him of acting "the croquette." Like something out of a Woody Allen nightmare, he performs a brand of "emotional vivisection" on Singer that's over-the-top, disparaging, sarcastic -- and oddly effective. Singer, quietly kicking and screaming, is dragged off the gray leatherette couch and into adulthood, a place he has assiduously tried to avoid.

Menaker knows, and elegantly describes, the analytic terrain: the orthodox Freudian's insistence on viewing human drama through an Oedipal lens; the way conflict on the couch mirrors conflict off of it; the quality of overdetermination that life takes on as you dig into the past and present simultaneously. As he racks up the 50-minute hours, Singer begins to internalize his analyst's voice, and Menaker's portrayal of the way Morales nags his way into Singer's consciousness, gradually altering his approach to relationships, is both hilarious and affecting. "Life improved as I went to him," Jake concedes, "but whether if I could do it all over again I would actually choose to have the homunculus of an insane, bodybuilding, black-bearded Cuban Catholic Freudian shouting at me from inside my own head, I am not sure."

Readers looking for psychiatric catharsis -- tears, storms, blinding insights -- will be disappointed; this is a comic novel in Cuban shrink-wrap, an entirely different experience (for both reader and protagonist) from the kind depicted in, say, Pat Conroy's The Prince of Tides or Judith Rossner's August. It's also far more ambiguous on the question of treatment and its power to change us. At the outset, Morales promises, "What I shall try to do, if you will permit me, is to help you learn how to obtain from others what it is that you want." As the narrative unfolds, Jake becomes involved with a rich socialite widow named Allegra Marshall; his icy relationship with his father thaws (a process Menaker describes with particular poignancy); he becomes entangled in a conflict involving Allegra's adopted daughter; he changes. Morales' promise -- that his patient will get out of his own way and find personal, professional and sexual fulfillment -- begins to be realized, but whether that's because of the treatment or in spite of it is unclear. In therapy, as in life, growth turns out to be an elusive, mysterious process; in Menaker's hands, it's also a very engaging one. -- Salon

Jim Shepard
The Treatment ultimately seems admirable for both its craft and its humanity, producing a wistful critique of those tremors that jar the good life even as it celebrates [a] sort of miracle: the coming together of immanence and transcendence in everyday life. -- New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Menaker's clever, very funny and surprisingly tender first novel is a triumphant satire of Freudianism gone amok, a touching love story and a quintessential picture of New York life. In the annals of intellectual urban existence at the end of the 20th century, 32-year-old Jake Singer's lonely, anxiety-filled daily routine qualifies as an existential hell. Just passed over as head of the English department at Coventry, a prestigious Manhattan prep school, estranged from his cold father, still subconsciously guilty about his mother's death when he was six, unable to connect emotionally with a woman, Jake is locked in combat with the devil in the form of psychiatrist Dr. Ernesto Morales. The black-bearded, Cuban-born, devoutly Catholic Morales has put his personal stamp on the psychoanalytic process that he calls "the treatment": he is aggressively confrontational, vociferously opinionated and invariably accusatory as he hectors Jake in hilariously accented, "flamboyantly Spanished" diatribes designed to keep his patient intimidated. Even when Jake is not being bullied by Morales in person, he hears the doctor's voice in his head, in tandem with his own typically sardonic replies. But Jake's life undergoes an astonishing transformation when he meets wealthy socialite widow Allegra Marshall at a Coventry fund-raiser, and the twobeautiful WASP and "neurotic secular atheist Jew" begin a passionate affair. Fate brings them into contact with a young woman living in the Berkshires (this gives Menaker another chance to depict the residents and terrain of his memorable collection of short stories, The Old Left). In a series of (perhaps too convenient) coincidences, Jake initiates acts of courage, reconciliation and healing, meanwhile achieving his own fulfillment. Menaker's supple command of language, his witty turns of phrase and riposte-sharpened dialogue are informed by an ironic eye, a wryly compassionate understanding of human frailties and a skeptical but also guardedly hopeful appraisal of the human condition. (June) FYI: Menaker, formerly a senior editor at the New Yorker, is a senior editor at Random House.
Library Journal
Two stories interact in this sharp, insightful first novel from Random House editor Menaker. The first involves prep school English teacher Jake Singer's partaking of "The Treatment," an aggressive, sarcastic brand of psychotherapy delivered by "the last Freudian," seedy, over-the-top language-mangling Cuban migr Dr. Ernesto Morales; the second, Jake's blooming relationship (emotional and sexual and against Morales's wishes) with insecure, wealthy widow Allegra Marshall and with Allegra's two precocious adopted children. The novel is brutal but truly enlightening at times, while Jake's smart-ass answers point up a real need in him. Allegra brings new answers and new questions, forcing Jake both to deal with a detective and become one and bringing him back to himself. Comedy, yes, with comedy's ending, but (as with a good comedy) with a lot of heavy issues on the side. Highly recommended.Robert E. Brown, Onondaga Cty. P.L., Syracuse, NY
Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
Charming and tender-hearted.
—Christopher Lehmann—Haupt,The New York Times
Kirkus Reviews
This debut novel from Menaker (Friends and Relations, 1976, and The Old Left, 1987, stories) has all its author's usual strengths and charm in setting, details, and people, though the story itself tries ambitiously for a breadth and weight that never quite convince. Jake Singer's mother abandoned him when he was six years old by dying of a stroke, and his cardiologist father in effect abandoned him too, not by dying, but through his increasingly self-protective guardedness, stiffness, and reserve—and by effectively cutting his son off when, after college and some grad school in literature at Yale, Jake makes it clear that he's never going to become a doctor himself. Turn to the 1970s, then, and you'll find that Jake is 32, single, an English teacher at the Coventry school on Manhattan's West Side—and in therapy with Dr. Ernesto Morales, the bearded, Cuban, Catholic, cunning, anticommunist shrink who gives wings and a fine, high hilarity to the first third of the story as he baffles, queries, pummels, tricks, lectures, and sometimes drags the hapless though far from unintelligent Jake through "the scourge he called the treatment," not the least fun being Dr. Moralesþs wonderfully (and perfectly) unidiomatic English ("But many questions are wolves hiding in the pants of a sheep"). As Jake, though, gains the self-assertiveness instilled by Dr. Morales and begins achieving more in life, the novel gradually achieves less, creeping into unnecessary complication and nearing the hyperbole of TV-drama—with a lover (later wife) who's both knockout gorgeous and fabulously rich (with two adopted kids), and a mix of bad guys, a gun, a big packet of coincidences,even a chase in the country. If all this were tongue-in-cheek, the whole might cohere more happily, but the earnestness and rigor at the foundation match only uneasily the castle of sweets built up above. Work that's gifted but still in big pieces of cloth, a kind of coat of several colors.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671032630
  • Publisher: Pocket Books
  • Publication date: 4/1/1999
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.66 (w) x 8.70 (h) x 0.74 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel Menaker worked at The New Yorker for twenty-six years, twenty of them as Senior Editor. He has won two O. Henry Awards and is the author of two short story collections, The Old Left and Friends and Relations. Now Senior Literary Editor at Random House, he lives in Manhattan with his wife and two children.
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Read an Excerpt

THE SUN WAS UP high enough behind the clouds to give the air the bright, false-spring light that always marks
an hour or two of daytime snowstorms before afternoon arrives and the gloom lowers. The wind was coming from
behind us, at the same speed we were walking, and the snow had retired from fine urgency to flaky slowness, its
movement more horizontal than vertical, so that as Dr. Morales and I walked to the end of the block we seemed to
be moving without moving. He had on a coat and hat so bulbous and red and shiny--it must have been some sort of
weird new synthetic fabric--that he looked like a postmodern mountain climber or an explorer or astronaut. He
didn't appear to notice the glances he got from nearly everyone we passed, but charged ahead as if he had just caught
sight of some lunar objective. I tried to keep up.

We entered the park at Ninetieth Street and went down a small hill. Paths that had been shovelled were already
recovered by snow, and the banks stood three or four feet high on either side. We walked in silence for a few
minutes, following a course that took us--appropriately, it occurred to me--in a large circle. At the halfway point, Dr.
Morales asked, "What are you thinking about?" and I said, "Not much." When we got back to where we had
started, I stopped and scooped up some snow, made it into a snowball, and threw it at a tree about fifty feet off. It
nicked the trunk.

"What a beautiful day, yes?" said Dr. Morales, beaming at the winterscape as if he had created it himself "It
makes you feel like a kid, no?"

"Yes," I said. "But you couldn't have had much weather like this in Cuba."

"You are still at point-counterpoint, eh, Mr. Singer?"

"Just an observation," I said, moving off down the path. "Sometimes a cigar is a cigar."

"Yes, but not, I believe, when you light it and then try to ram it up someone's ass." He hadn't resumed walking,
and when I turned to face him he looked, now, less exploratory than extraterrestrially Bolshevik, with the
snow--which was intensifying again--swirling about him. He stood perfectly upright in his carapace, a few feet
away, gazing at me austerely, as if I had failed to hold my individual portion of the line against the Nazis outside
Leningrad. Off to the side, some schoolboys on an outing tossed a Frisbee back and forth. Dr. Morales picked up
some snow, compacted it vigorously, and, encumbered as he was, fired it at the tree I'd aimed at. Bull's-eye.

"I don't think this treatment is getting me anywhere," I said.

"You must give it time, Mr. Singer."

"I want to stop."

"Please do not do that, Mr. Singer."

"I thought this whole process was supposed to be more sympathetic, kinder."

"That is what you want? Someone to be kind to you?"

"Yes," I said, and with that, tears welled up in my eyes. "Yes, that's what I want."

"I'm afraid this is not my function. What I shall try to do, if you will permit me, is to help you learn how to
obtain from others what it is that you want."

The tears were now starting from my eyes, as if expelled by some great interior pressure, and even as I wept I
smiled in childlike pleasure to feel such sudden lightness across my shoulders, such relief in not being able to
govern myself Dr. Morales walked along the path toward me. Despite what he had said, I expected that he might
put his arm around my shoulders or explain that it was for my own good that he remained so aloof and
exigent--some gesture of concern. But even in the face of my weeping he didn't let go an inch, and what I got, after a
Frisbee player ran between us, his coat flapping and his orange scarf trailing behind him like a pennant, was "I am
sorry but our time is up. I must return to my office."

We walked out of the park once again in silence, and Dr. Morales once again struck a lively pace. I hurried along,
in order not to lag behind like a kid, which is very much what I felt like as I tried to wipe the snot and tears from my
face with the back of a snow-crusted glove. At Fifth Avenue, Dr. Morales gave me a single formal nod of the head
and hurried off. He walked against a red light that was about to change, and a gypsy cab trailing the herd of cars that
had just passed and driving too fast for the weather looked like it was going to hit him. I thought, My troubles are
over, and then, It's all my fault, but the cab swerved away. The street was slick with snow, so the car fishtailed into a
parked delivery van with a muffled thump and a treble accompaniment of tinkling glass. The van's driver, dressed in
jeans and shirtsleeves, got out and shook his fist and issued an excited bulletin of chingates and pendejos and putas
across the avenue, but Dr. Morales stalked on.

When I got on the westbound crosstown bus, there was the fat woman, occupying two of the seats reserved for
the elderly and the handicapped.

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Introduction

Reading Group Guide

The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for discussion for Daniel Menaker's The Treatment. We hope that these ideas will enrich your discussion and increase your enjoyment of the book.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. The theme of motherhood is a strong one throughout The Treatment. Discuss how Jake's life would have been different had he not lost his mother; and Sarah's life, if she not given up her daughter. What would Freud have thought about Jake's attraction to Allegra, and his Mother's Day gift to her? What do you think?

2. What does Jake's driving away of Samira — and the way which he does it — tell us about him?

3. Is Jake's defiance of Proctor during the Scholarship Committee meeting a case of standing up for what is right or a disguised attempt at professional suicide?

4. It is interesting to note that before the author allows us even a glimpse of the infant Emily, we learn the whole tragic story behind how she came to be. Why do you think the author does that?

5. Discuss what an enormous step it was for Jake to take Allegra and the children to visit his father that first time. Was Jake able to pull it off due to Dr. Morales' help, or was it the changed, improved circumstances of his life that made it possible?

6. Why did Sarah's husband Paul really want to get Emily back?

7. Do you see Jake's first trip to New Berkshire as the reason Emily remained with Allegra, or would Sarah have made the same decision without his intervention?

8. How do you find Jake's continued relationship with Sarah — odd, comforting, inappropriate, noble?Why?

9. Did Dr. Morales talk or did Mrs. Glass snoop? And if she did, did he allow it to happen? (Remember, there are no accidents.)

10. How would you characterize the relationship between Jake and Dr. Morales, beyond patient/doctor? Is the doctor saving Jake's life, as he claims? Is Jake better off after seven years of analysis, or worse?

11. What was Gordon's burned hand testimony to?

12. Has Jake been waiting for Something to Happen? What has he done to make Something Happen?

AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR:

Q: You set this novel in the seventies. Was this to allow Jake to age, to have it take place when vastly different adoption laws were in effect, or was there another reason?

A: Analysis was more in the air then, and it allowed me, I have to admit, to match Jake's age more closely with my own.

Q: Would it bother you if some readers rooted for Sarah to reclaim Emily?

A: No. Every reader brings his own set of beliefs and convictions and sense of what's right to a novel.

Q: From what black hole of the psyche did you come up with a character such as Ernesto Morales?

A: The second from the left. He's based on five or six different "models," including my own personal tyrant fantasy.

Q: OK, we have to ask. Have you yourself been on the receiving end of the treatment?

A: Hmm. I wonder why you feel you have to ask that. Perhaps you should get some help.

Q: After twenty-six years, you left editing a magazine to become a book editor. Why? Are the jobs more similar than different, or vice versa?

A: I left because it was a chance to do something different, because the multitasking involved in being an editor at The New Yorker seemed to me to be a good preparation for the varied challenges of being a book editor. The jobs are enormously different in terms of time schedules — a magazine a week vs. five to ten books a year — but in terms of editorial work and the need to balance twenty or thirty burdens at the same time (and, of course, in terms of office politics), they're remarkably similar. Magazines have advertising, books don't — that's nice. On the other hand, books don't have cartoons. That's too bad.

Copyright © 1998 by Daniel Menaker

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide

The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for discussion for Daniel Menaker's The Treatment. We hope that these ideas will enrich your discussion and increase your enjoyment of the book.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. The theme of motherhood is a strong one throughout The Treatment. Discuss how Jake's life would have been different had he not lost his mother; and Sarah's life, if she not given up her daughter. What would Freud have thought about Jake's attraction to Allegra, and his Mother's Day gift to her? What do you think?

2. What does Jake's driving away of Samira — and the way which he does it — tell us about him?

3. Is Jake's defiance of Proctor during the Scholarship Committee meeting a case of standing up for what is right or a disguised attempt at professional suicide?

4. It is interesting to note that before the author allows us even a glimpse of the infant Emily, we learn the whole tragic story behind how she came to be. Why do you think the author does that?

5. Discuss what an enormous step it was for Jake to take Allegra and the children to visit his father that first time. Was Jake able to pull it off due to Dr. Morales' help, or was it the changed, improved circumstances of his life that made it possible?

6. Why did Sarah's husband Paul really want to get Emily back?

7. Do you see Jake's first trip to New Berkshire as the reason Emily remained with Allegra, or would Sarah have made the same decision without his intervention?

8. How do you find Jake's continued relationship with Sarah — odd, comforting, inappropriate, noble?Why?

9. Did Dr. Morales talk or did Mrs. Glass snoop? And if she did, did he allow it to happen? (Remember, there are no accidents.)

10. How would you characterize the relationship between Jake and Dr. Morales, beyond patient/doctor? Is the doctor saving Jake's life, as he claims? Is Jake better off after seven years of analysis, or worse?

11. What was Gordon's burned hand testimony to?

12. Has Jake been waiting for Something to Happen? What has he done to make Something Happen?

AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR:

Q: You set this novel in the seventies. Was this to allow Jake to age, to have it take place when vastly different adoption laws were in effect, or was there another reason?

A: Analysis was more in the air then, and it allowed me, I have to admit, to match Jake's age more closely with my own.

Q: Would it bother you if some readers rooted for Sarah to reclaim Emily?

A: No. Every reader brings his own set of beliefs and convictions and sense of what's right to a novel.

Q: From what black hole of the psyche did you come up with a character such as Ernesto Morales?

A: The second from the left. He's based on five or six different "models," including my own personal tyrant fantasy.

Q: OK, we have to ask. Have you yourself been on the receiving end of the treatment?

A: Hmm. I wonder why you feel you have to ask that. Perhaps you should get some help.

Q: After twenty-six years, you left editing a magazine to become a book editor. Why? Are the jobs more similar than different, or vice versa?

A: I left because it was a chance to do something different, because the multitasking involved in being an editor at The New Yorker seemed to me to be a good preparation for the varied challenges of being a book editor. The jobs are enormously different in terms of time schedules — a magazine a week vs. five to ten books a year — but in terms of editorial work and the need to balance twenty or thirty burdens at the same time (and, of course, in terms of office politics), they're remarkably similar. Magazines have advertising, books don't — that's nice. On the other hand, books don't have cartoons. That's too bad.

Copyright © 1998 by Daniel Menaker

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