Saturday, August 13, 2011

Reinventing Dora

In the early 1900s, Dr. Sigmund Freud treated a woman who he identified as "Dora", finding that she had symptoms of hysteria.  While I don't purport to be a Freud scholar, Wikipedia says that Dora discontinued her treatment after telling Freud about her father's affair with a woman whose husband was pursuing Dora.  Dora then confronted her father and her pursuer, and reported to Freud that her symptoms had much improved.

The Fig Eater by Jody Shields seems to explore what could have happened if Dora had not met with Dr. Freud and if the tension between her father, his lover, her husband, and Dora had continued.  The story opens with the discovery of Dora's body after she has been murdered.  It is soon revealed that she ate figs just before she died.  The inspector who is investigating the case quickly discards the figs as being irrelevant, but his wife, who was raised with gypsy superstitions, sees the figs as the key to solving the crime.  The husband and wife each continue to investigate the murder, although the wife does so only in secret.

If anything, this book is too well researched.  Jody Shields incorporates words from early twentieth century Vienna and from a gypsy language on nearly every page.  While I understand her using a word like "liderc"  and explaining that it is an unclean spirit, Shields also feels the need to say everyday words in the other languages and then provide their English translation, which just makes the prose choppy.

The whole premise of this book also confuses me.  Shields takes a person who is something of a historical figure, Dora, incorporates her family members and the other relevant parties from Freud's research, but instead of exploring the relationship that history supports in a creative way, she murders Dora.  Why not just murder any old woman in Vienna at the time and create the mystery there?  It did not add to the story that it was Dora who was murdered, and in fact I found it distracting that she was contradicting history.  She then adds further complications such as the mystery of the figs and photos of a burn victim, which are purely her creation. 

In the end the idea behind this book is interesting, but it just didn't work.

Next up:  Left Neglected by Lisa Genova

Still Listening to:  The Tale of Halcyon Crane by Wendy Webb

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