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His Psychotherapy and Cure by the Unfortunate Dr Kassler, JSPS

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Panther, London, 1984
(originally published in Great Britain by Michael Joseph Ltd, 1982)
price: 2.50; 528 pages

dedication: In Memory of Elizabeth Lauter Obrasky, 1891-1980

This book is dedicated to those who lack the freedom to choose their own suffering and to their hope.

The blurb on the back:

Albert Einstein comes to Leo Szlyck in his dreams. Night after night Einstein explains to Leo how to build an electronic computer. And Leo builds it. When it is ready, he switches it on.
It introduces itself as Satan.
In this hilarious, bawdy, wicked novel the best-selling author of
Creator unfolds a devilishly inventive tale that treats us to everything: burlesque humour, sexual bouts galore, sorrow, compassion and a sizzling dissection of good and evil. It is stunning entertainment that reads like an outrageous combination of Mel Brooks, Woody Allen and Monty Python.

opening lines:
What can I tell you? The tale is chaotic, persons and paths crossing like the wiring of some, you should pardon the expression, diabolical brain, its function and purpose not to be deciphered from any simple separation of the jumbled connexions.

This is terrific stuff, somewhere between Catch 22, the Book of Job and A Confederacy of Dunces. To pull three random works out of the air. Basically what we're looking at is a vision of modern America, disillusioned with itself and its former God, a world where shrinks are the new high priests. So what happens when Satan Himself turns up and checks in for some psychotherapy?

Well, what you get is a stupidly over-the-top free-fall satiric fantasy that one might think of as the American Master and Margarita blended with Dante's Divine Comedy. Sorry to keep on throwing in these references, but I'm not quite sure how else to deal with a book this big - in every sense - without giving away too much of the story. And I wouldn't want to do that because the unfolding of the narrative is hugely rewarding, packed full of really silly twists in a manner not dissimilar to, say, Boy Wonder. Damn, there I go again.

Whoever wrote the sleeve-notes possibly had the same problem, and I kind of like their solution: Mel Brooks and Woody Allen seem right, 'cos there's a very strong New York Jewish humour going on here, but the Monty Python reference is neat as well - the set-pieces and the relentless reductions to absurdity and beyond has something in common with The Meaning of Life particularly. And it's terrific. And one last comparison: the book comes with a fulsome endorsement from Robert Heinlein, whose work it somewhat resembles.

What I also like, while we're here, is the occasional little passage on the passing of the '70s, the literary equivalent of the calendar pages flying off in an old Hollywood movie:

The months from the spring of 1977 to the spring of 1978 had gone by without any noticeable change in Kassler of their relationship. The Roots miniseries had ended and both Lupa and Kassler now went out of their way to greet black-skinned people with a mixture of effusive cordiality and an appropriate undertone of guilt and repentance for sins they had never committed. Mr Gary Gilmore, who unfortunately just barely missed finding out whether Kunta Kinte got to the bottom of his ancestral tree, had his earnest pleas honoured by his fellow men, who pumped a dozen large-calibre bullets into his chest. (p.457)

Of course, if you weren't around, it might not mean anything.

The only other book by Mr Leven that I know of is Creator (1980), which I have every intention of reading. Meantime, he adapted this huge, sprawling novel for a 110-minute film, Crazy As Hell (2002), directed by and starring Eriq La Salle. How that works, I have as yet no idea, having not seen it - initial reviews from America seem cautiously positive, but I can't believe it's going to match the book.

Fantastic cover, as well.


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Boy Wonder