Categorized | Columnists, In My Mind's I

Is this book psychology or psychobabble?

Posted on 08 March 2018 by admin

Have you ever gone to see a play and found it so personally unappealing that you were ready to leave at intermission? Have you ever actually done that? Not I. Even when sorely tempted, I’m afraid I’ll miss something important in Act II, so I dutifully file back in when I hear the call. Now — interestingly enough — this choice is confronting me about a book.
I’ve just read half of Barbra Streisand: On the Couch, and I don’t quite know what to make of it, leaving me unable to decide whether plowing through another 250 or so pages would improve my understanding enough to make it worthwhile, or if that would just be time wasted.
Yes, Streisand is an interesting subject. And, yes, Alma H. Bond, Ph.D., is an interesting author. A psychoanalyst with many years’ experience, she’s given up that work in favor of writing books. This is the latest of her On the Couch series, in which she uses her professional skills to extrapolate from known facts of famous women’s lives. She’s already explored the psyches of Jackie Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe and Hillary Clinton; now that Streisand is between closed covers, she’s already working on Meryl Streep.
As author of what I see to be clever works of fiction, Bond casts herself as Dr. Darcy Dale, to whom rich and famous women come for understanding more about themselves. As a real analyst, she certainly has her chops. But in writing, she presents her subjects as real people in therapy with her fictional alter ego. So should readers be expected to believe what (or anything) of the conversations that make up her books? The extensive press kit accompanying my copy of Streisand says Bond’s “fictionalized biographies provide a unique and revealing perspective of (her subjects’) lives.” I certainly agree with “unique,” but I question the value of what they reveal.
I haven’t see any reactions to these Bond-interpreted women from the women themselves, or noticed their books hitting the top of The New York Times best-seller List. Possibly I’ve missed something, but somehow, I doubt it…
I haven’t even found this a “fun” read, which is why I’m ready to put the book aside after “Act I,” as it were. What have I learned about Streisand that I didn’t know before? Words come out of the made-up analyst’s mouth, as they do out of the supposedly-real Streisand’s mouth, and this is the impasse where I find myself: I can believe the things that Bond-as-Dale says only if I can also believe the “quotes” that supposedly represent what Streisand says. And would the latter ever really have made such statements, asked such questions, and responded as she does to Dr. Dale’s answers? Plus, there is so much sex and rough language attributed to this Barbra that a very “blue” cloud was hanging over On the Couch as I was reading it. Can this really be the way she wants herself portrayed? “‘Tis a puzzlement…”
Streisand’s authorized autobiography is supposed to be out soon, but its publication has been delayed (according to the press kit mentioned above). I think I might just wait for it and put this book aside, because it seems to me that in “Act I,” it has already shared everything, and will only offer up more of the same in an endless Act II. Would you agree with me?
For the record: Bond is Jewish herself, with a New York background, so she easily handles such Yiddish as emerges from the on-paper Streisand’s mouth. And like the real analyst she is, she eschews direct judgment. However, she is actually sharing with her readers what properly belongs only in a real analyst’s private notebook, which makes me uncomfortable: What right do I, an outsider, have to know the intimate thoughts of either her or her subject?
So: To read or not to read on — that is my question. Please let me know your answers!

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