The protagonist of Neurotica is British, jewish, and in her late 30’s. As someone who fulfills two of those three categories, perhaps this story struck more of a chord with me than it would for those who are not familiar with jewish mothers or the Bay City Rollers. While I didn’t catch all of the cultural references, most of them served the book well, and made me LOL in far too many instances to recount. This is a wickedly bitchy book that will no doubt offend many readers. While there is romance, this is not a traditional romance by any means – how could it be when adultery is its premise?
As the book begins, hypochondriac Dan Bloomfield is examining his testicles when pain brings him literally to his knees. His wife, Anne Shapiro, who hasn’t had decent sex with Dan for three years, discovers him on the floor of their bathroom, sure he is wasting his seed on himself when he could be giving it to her for a change. Though they’ve loved each other for years, his obsession with his health has ruined their love life and has transformed Dan into a man who, instead of buying Palm Pilots, cell phones, and pagers like other men, buys medical devices to test body parts and bodily fluids and carries them around in his briefcase.
Anna is fed up, and when asked by an editor to do a story on The Clitoris-Centered Woman, she decides to use herself as research. Anna doesn’t feel connected to many modern-day feminists such as those attractive women who write about the negative effects of our beauty culture (a veiled reference to Naomi Wolf?). The author of The Clitoris-Centered Woman last wrote about how unnecessary plastic surgery is for women, so Anna’s not predisposed to make much of this new book, with its premise that married women can have sexual-only affairs, and they will benefit from them if they can but learn to keep their emotions out of the picture.
Still, she’s not getting any from Dan lately, so why not have a few affairs herself and test the theory? She meets her first paramour at the funeral of a family friend, and she is on her way. The book chronicles her three affairs, and weaves in how poor Dan fares throughout. Introduced as well are Anna’s closest friend, her obsessive-compulsive mother Gloria, and the “salami man” who stalks Gloria. Each character is richly neurotic; if the 60’s gave men Portnoy’s Complaint, the late 90’s gives us Neurotica, albeit with a woman’s point-of-view.
Another character brought to life by the author is, in actuality, dead. Dan’s mother, the source of his hypochondria, is viewed mostly through his discussions with a therapist. You’ll never be able to eat a bowl of chicken soup again after hearing how she used a pot-ful to cure 12-year-old Dan’s constipation! Of course, given the wicked tone of this book, eventually Dan begins to make up stories about his horrible mother to sate his therapist’s neediness.
The second man Anna becomes involved with is a plastic surgeon, and the ironies begin to load up when she discovers the identity of one of his past clients. Of course, this follows their love-making session in his office and involves some rather unusual sex toys.
Though filled with raunchy sex and black humor, Neurotica becomes more serious as the book reaches its conclusion. When the effects of Anna’s actions reach their climax, the reader will have become absorbed in her story but will never have truly identified with her or any of the other characters. Still, in the end, which is both touching and whimsical, the author manages to let Anna have her cake and eat it too.
This is definitely not a book for readers who cannot abide by fictional adultery, nor should anyone who dislikes strong sexual descriptions read it. Even though, by those terms, I shouldn’t have enjoyed it, I did. If, like me, you find yourself drawn into friendships with bitchy women with wicked senses of humor, I think you’ll like Neurotica.