three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
19-Nov-Dec-2005
user_rating: 
0

A Novel

A-EnvyNothing good comes of envy, but that’s what Will Moreland, a late-40s New York psychoanalyst, is all about. Ever since the death of his 12-year-old son, he’s become increasingly estranged from his wife, who, in turn, holds a devastating secret of her own. His father’s become a philanderer, and his twin brother Mitchell, a famous long-distance swimmer marked by a facial disfiguration at birth, has gone off the radar. To make matters worse, when Will runs into an ex at a college reunion, he starts to wonder if any of the young women running around could be his offspring. But he’s clueless, really. Though a shrink himself, nobody needs one more than he does.
Random House. 305 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 1400063469

Newsday 4 of 5 Stars
"Kathryn Harrison’s sixth novel is that rare literary phenomenon: a psychologically complex work with a plot. . . . The characters, their conflicts and their conversations do seem real, and their story, however improbable, will keep you turning the pages." Liza Featherstone

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Her characters and their relationships have a sense of heart and warmth here that gives her writing, always beautiful, a new level of depth. . . . The crises in Envy often approach soap opera territory . . . but Harrison seems to be reaching for something more domestic here, and hopeful—something, perhaps, approaching peace." Sandra Shea

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"There is an oedipal inevitability to the way events play out, and as with Oedipus, the question of guilt and responsibility is thorny, and one that Harrison wisely leaves unanswered. . . . [T]he real tragedy of Envy is that Will so sorely lacks his creator’s ample insights into his psyche." Jennie Yabroff

Chicago Tribune 3 of 5 Stars
"The multiple sorts of twinnings to be found in Envy seem at times to come straight from the analyst’s couch. . . . Most of the novel is exceedingly good, but the anger and confusion that drove her characters is dissipated in a relatively minor incident, classically a wounding, but still it’s a cathartic episode that seems of too little moment for what it achieves." Art Winslow

Baltimore Sun 2.5 of 5 Stars
"With graphic sexual content wedded to a plot based on incest, sexual dysfunction, sexual obsession, and mistreatment of women, Harrison’s novels tend to be formulaic and repetitive." Diane Scharper

NY Times Book Review 2 of 5 Stars
"The book’s muted family problems become elements in a Greekish tragedy, one filled with the tropes of sexual violation for which Harrison is best known . . . . As heightened as this hidden plot turns out to be, it is frustratingly formulaic at its deepest level." Emily Nussbaum

Washington Post 0.5 of 5 Stars
"Ten pages of Envy are enough to make you yearn for the juiciest trash novel you can find; 50 will have you dreaming of box-top recipes, road maps, computer instructions—anything with a purpose. . . . There is something both tony and precious in Harrison’s determination to shock." Charles Taylor

Critical Summary

Perhaps best known for her 1997 memoir, The Kiss, in which she recounted her affair with her estranged father, Harrison is an expert at exploring themes of transgression, betrayal, and obsession. Envy deals with it all: marital estrangement, sexual dysfunction, sibling rivalry, and parental grief. Though riveting in parts and suspenseful the entire way through, the novel’s sheer drama, approaching the formulaic, suffocated a few critics. The characters (some flat, others narcissistic and passionless) flail about in their own misery, inciting some sympathy but also contempt. Harrison’s writing is "hot hot hot," says the San Francisco Chronicle, but some critics wondered what it all added up to—lessons in how to find truth and reality, or mere shock value?