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Envy    by Kathryn Harrison order for
by Kathryn Harrison
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2005 (2005)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

It has been three years since ten-year old Luke drowned in a boating accident. Clinical psychologist, William Moreland and his wife Carole have gone on, but not forward, with their lives. Will, who grieves openly, finds it hard to understand Carole's private, calm mourning. Grief weighs heavily on Will's existence and his marriage. Carole no longer looks at him during intimacy, as though she is not present. Will feels that Carole blames him for Luke's death, while she says of handling her grief: 'When I think of myself at all ... it's in a little boat on a wide sea. I'm sitting in the boat - I picture myself from high above - and I have to keep my balance ... all of it, every piece of my life, is about staying there in the center of my little boat.'

At his college reunion, Will talks of years gone by with ex-girlfriend Elizabeth. It occurs to Will that Elizabeth's child may be his daughter, and he asks that she send him a strand of Jennifer's hair for DNA testing, but she refuses. Will hoped that his estranged twin-brother Mitch would be present at the reunion, since he submitted a bio for the reunion book. Mitch cut all ties with his family the day that Carole and Will were married. He has since become an international athletic hero as a champion long-distance swimmer. Mitch was disfigured at birth with 'port-wine stains' over one side of his face, caused by 'vascular abnormalities', Sturge-Weber syndrome.

Will's sexual fantasies heighten when he is with a patient, no matter who she is or how she looks, and he worries about what he might do. He meets with his retired veterinarian father, whom he learns is in an extra-marital affair. Will shares the compelling sexual fantasies he is having, and discloses what is in his mind about his son - 'I've thought about Luke's continued existence. I don't mean my wish that he live on, but the conflict - the discontinuity - between his presence within me and his absence in the world. I've ascribed that disparity to the unconscious. I know he's dead. But only when I'm awake, conscious. In my unconscious, Luke lives ... So, maybe that's an example of the unconscious being God's country. A place of life after death. Reunion with those who die before us.'

Will diagnoses his patient, Andrea as suffering 'compulsive promiscuity', in 'staking out older men and enticing them into sex'. Will refers Andrea to another therapist, but she unexpectedly arrives at his office, seduces him, and makes a shocking disclosure about herself and about his twin brother. A secret withheld from Will for fifteen years by his parents and wife, relates to his brother's estrangement. Unresolved issues, underlying secrets, Will's insecurity, feelings of betrayal, fantasies, suspicions, and jealousies overwhelm his life.

Kathryn Harrison's writing credits range from novels to memoirs, essays, travel, and biography. She examines minds and motivations in compelling, titillating prose, with psychosexual suspense. Harrison dissects her novel's premise intellectually with intensity and sensitivity. Though it's not for everyone, I recommend Harrison's Envy as a rich and well-written novel with a redemptive ending.

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