Thursday, February 26, 2009

Rubenfeld off to a great start!

The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld

I don't especially consider myself a fan of historical fiction. But every now and then I stumble upon a novel that's purely entertaining. The Interpretation of Murder is one such novel, and I have to say that the depiction of New York in 1909 was my favorite part of the book. The city itself is like a character!

It's clear that debut novelist Rubenfeld did his research. Not just about the city, but also about his famous characters. The novel is set during the one and only visit of Sigmund Freud to America. Apparently, for the rest of his life Freud referred to Americans as "savages" and spoke disparagingly of the US. It's a true historical mystery, because no one knows what may have happened while Freud was here that so soured the man on this country and its people.

In the mystery of this book, Freud visits America with his desciple Carl Jung and gets involved with a murder. The psychologists--along with a fictional counterpart, Dr. Stratham Younger--are asked to consult on the case. Amazingly, Rubenfeld has stolen great chunks of the character's dialog from their real life writing and correspondence, lending a verisimilitude to their psychobabble. While the doctors are analyzing everyone they encounter, the case is being solved by Dr. Younger and wet-behind-the-ears Detective Littlemore.

Others have gone into the plot in more detail, and as convoluted as the story is, there doesn't seem to be much point in me doing it again. And that may be the novel's biggest flaw. The many, many twists and reversals in this psychological who-done-it keep you turning the pages at a lightning pace, but the final denouement takes nearly 50 pages to explain what really happened! That's a lot of 'splaining! It's a very convoluted story and in the end may stretch your credulity.

Be that as it may, this novel is well worth reading. I felt like a time machine had taken me back to the NY of 1909. It was just wonderful and fascinating--and this again from a non-history buff. Plus, Detective Littlemore is one of my favorite characters I've encountered in quite some time. I would LOVE to see him again! And I even feel I learned something, quite painlessly, about the psychological theories of Jung and Freud. I really hope Rubenfeld, a professor of law, returns to fiction again.

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