The Dream Interpreters: A Psychoanalytic Novel in Verse (Book Review)

Author:  Shevrin, Howard
Publisher: Madison CT: International Universities Press, 2004
Reviewed By: Johanna Krout Tabin, Winter 2004, pp. 33

It is nice to encounter one original idea. Howard Shevrin offers two of them in this novel.

The overall plan of the novel is to follow the thread of events through sets of sessions from seven analyses, presented sequentially, carried out by dyads in which the characters are various patients, training analysts, and analysts in training—depending on which position is held by the particular character in the particular dyad. The cast includes some who are mates of other characters. All of them are enmeshed in the staffing of a hospital, as its director looks for a new head of the research department. The narrative is almost completely composed of the interactions between two of the characters at a time, before and during the sessions. What the analyst thinks or says is presented in straight text. The patient's words are in quotation marks. A reader quickly understands whom it is who is talking. Carrying a story forward through a serial presentation of different (but interlinked) people's segments of an analysis is surely a fresh idea.

The second original idea is to give the sense of psychoanalytic sessions by using free verse. For me, the added cadences to thoughts and speech were very effective. Breaking up sentences in this way gives a propulsive quality to the dialogues.

A difficulty with the style, however, is that its being so much part of the novel makes it harder to establish the characters. There seems to be sameness in the accounts of all of the analyses. Shevrin keeps physical description to a minimum and this also contributes to a running together of whom the people are. While he did thoughtfully provide a list of characters at the beginning, with their interrelationships, I found myself flipping back to the list rather often.

Shevrin says in his foreword that psychoanalysis is the real subject of the novel. Although he also says that he has worked on it for many years, lovingly one suspects, the methods of the analysts seem to be characteristic of the period when he might have begun the novel. This actually increases interest in the playing out of the novel because it is a picture of what was once the usual approach to analysis. A difference is, in spite of the title, that interpretation of dreams does not occupy much of the sessions, as might have been true in that period.

What does come through clearly is the analytic attitude. The intuitive leaps an analyst makes and the regressive pull of the analytic situation when one is the patient are also evident. The reliance of an analyst in training on an introject of the training or supervising analyst comes across nicely.

A subtext is the machinations and personality issues that color the running of even a small bureaucracy. The unconscious meanings in all of this are not so much taken up in the analytic material, but the centrality of sexual issues, including in the countertransferences, is hard to miss in the story.

This is not a novel about the success of the analytic enterprise. It demonstrates the importance of analysis to those who are engaged in it. What all of us analysts will recognize in it is our plugging along, doing the best we can.

Reviewer Note

Johanna Krout Tabin is a longtime member of the Division. Her affiliation is with the Chicago Center for Psychoanalysis.

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