Interpretation of Murder (Rubenfeld)

The Interpretation of Murder
Jed Rubenfeld, 2006
Macmillan Picador
464 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780312427054

National Bestseller The Interpretation of Murder opens on a hot summer night in 1909 as Sigmund Freud disembarks in New York from a steamship. With Freud is his rival Carl Jung; waiting for him on the docks is a young physician named Stratham Younger, one of Freud's most devoted American supporters. So begins this story of what will be the great genius's first—and last—journey to America.

The morning after his arrival, a beautiful young woman is found dead in an apartment in one of the city's grand new skyscrapers, The Balmoral. The next day brings a similar crime in a townhouse on Gramercy Park. Only this time the young heiress, Nora Acton, escapes with her life—but with no memory of the attack. Asked to consult on the case, Dr. Younger calls on Freud to guide him through the girl's analysis. Their investigation, and the pursuit of the culprit, lead throughout New York, from the luxurious ballrooms of the Waldorf-Astoria, to the skyscrapers rising on seemingly every street corner, to the bottom of the East River, where laborers are digging through the silt to build the foundation of the Manhattan Bridge.

Drawing on Freud's case histories, Shakespeare's Hamlet, and the historical details of a city on the brink of modernity, The Interpretation of Murder introduces a brilliant new storyteller who, in the words of the New York Times, "will be no ordinary pop cultural sensation. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio

Where—Washington, D.C., USA
Education—B.A., J.D., Harvard University
Currently—lives in New Haven, Connecticut

Jed Rubenfeld, (born 1959 in Washington, D.C.), is the Robert R. Slaughter Professor of Law at Yale Law School. He is an expert on constitutional law, privacy, and the First Amendment. He joined the Yale Law School faculty in 1990 and was appointed to a full professorship in 1994. Rubenfeld has also taught as a visiting professor at both the Stanford Law School and the Duke University School of Law. He is also the author of two novels and a nonfiction work, co-authored with his wife, Amy Chu.

Rubenfeld was a summa cum laude graduate of Princeton University (A.B., 1980) and a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School (J.D., 1986). He also studied theater in the Drama Division of the Juilliard School between 1980-1982. Rubenfeld clerked for Judge Joseph T. Sneed on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 1986-1987.

After his clerkship, he worked as an associate at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz and as an assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York.

2001 - Freedom and Time: A Theory of Constitutional Self-Government
2005 - Revolution by Judiciary: The Structure of American Constitutional Law
2006 - The Interpretation of Murder, a novel
2010 - The Death Instinct, a novel
2014 - The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of
          Cultural Groups in America
(with Amy Chua)

Rubenfeld is Jewish. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut and is married to Yale Law School professor Amy Chua, author of several nonfiction works, the most well-known of which is her 2011 memoir on parenting, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (2011). They have two daughters. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 2/18/2014.)

Book Reviews
As The Interpretation of Murder races past ravished damsels, sinister aristocrats, architectural marvels (the building of the Manhattan Bridge), hysterical symptoms, a Hamlet-Freud nexus and downright criminal wordplay ("there are more things in heaven and earth, Herr Professor, than are dreamt in your psychology"; "sometimes a catarrh, I’m afraid, is only a catarrh"), it cobbles together its own brand of excitement. That excitement is as palpable as it is peculiar. In a book that pays too much homage to contemporary suspense templates, there are still deep reserves of insight, data, wit and anecdote upon which the author ingeniously draws.
Janet Maslin - The New York Times

Turning a psychological thriller with a cast that includes Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and several important American politicians and millionaires from a rich textual experience to a gripping and exciting audio event requires a reader with many skills. Heyborne knows how to use just his voice to bring a variety of nationalities and social classes to life. He can catch the inherent smartness of a working-class detective in a phrase, and can as quickly mark a pioneering medical examiner as a dangerous crank. But where he really succeeds is in the three very different psychoanalysts who move Rubenfeld's story of murder and psychosis down its distinctive road. Heyborne's Freud is an all-too-human man of obvious charm and originality; Freud's disciple Jung is cold, calculating and obviously envious; and fictional narrator Dr. Stratham Younger is a bright and admiring early Freudian who is also somewhat skeptical about some of the Viennese master's theories. This goes a long way in easing listeners through some of Rubenfeld's longer monologues about life and architecture in New York in 1909-passages that readers had the option of skimming without missing any vital nuances.
Publishers Weekly

This is a gloriously intelligent exploration of what might have happened to Sigmund Freud during his only visit to America. The tortured body of a young society woman is found in a posh New York apartment in the summer of 1909. A day later, beautiful Nora Acton is found with similar marks, only she has managed to survive the brutal attack. Freud, en route with Carl Jung to a speaking engagement in Boston, finds himself drawn into the investigation. He asks an American colleague to psychoanalyze Nora, who has repressed all memory of the attack. Meanwhile, a determined if inexperienced police detective follows another trail. Can Freud and his fellow psychoanalysts find the killer before he strikes again? Filled with period detail, this historical thriller challenges the reader to reason out the mystery. Rubenfeld (law, Yale Univ.; Revolution by Judiciary: The Structure of American Constitutional Law) shows great talent for psychological suspense and uses shifting viewpoints to build tension. Fans of Caleb Carr will adore this work. Given the publicity planned, it is highly recommended for all fiction collections. —Laurel Bliss, Princeton Univ. Lib., NJ
Library Journal

Sigmund Freud and friends play Sherlock Holmes in an Alienist-style historical murder mystery. Human monsters stalk the teeming streets of early-20th-century New York City in Rubenfeld's ambitious debut. A sadist is assaulting rich society girls with whips and blades. Is the villain unscrupulous, wealthy entrepreneur George Banwell, who is mean to his horses and denies his gorgeous wife sexual intercourse because pregnancy would ruin her figure? Is it mysterious William Leon of Chinatown, in whose room one of the corpses is found? Or could Harry Thaw, notorious murderer of Stanford White, be slipping out from Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane? Freud, making his only visit to America, to lecture at Clark University, is in New York with a group of colleagues. Among them is one who seems crazy enough to be another murder suspect: Carl Jung. Carl has violent mood swings, carries a pocket revolver, lies about his ancestors and believes that he can hear supernatural voices. Freud's cohorts also include Dr. Stratham Younger, an American psychoanalyst given the job of analyzing lovely 17-year-old Nora Acton, who has survived an attack by the sex maniac but can't remember anything about it. Into this already-teeming stew, the author tosses a group of powerful grandees scheming to ruin Freud's visit and reputation, political corruption, the plight of the working poor, the coming psychological revolution, Oedipus, Hamlet and much more. Rubenfeld tends to slice and splice his chapters in cinematic fashion; Younger's first-person narration repeatedly jars with the remainder of the book's third-person perspective, often spoiling the buildup of tension. Other weaknesses include the author's failure to establish exactly who the central character is. Eventually, relying heavily on bait-and-switch, the story reaches its conclusion, giving Freud the last, prophetic word. Meaty and provocative, though also grandiose and calculated.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Discss the use of the title, The Interpretation of Murder.

2. The author’s portrayal of women is noteworthy: Is Nora still a victim when she is empowered by a sympathetic listener? What are Clara’s motives for the events in the novel? How is Betty the maid, Susie Merrill, and Greta depicted? Do these characters reflect the turn-of-the-century society, or do they represent a more timeless portrayal of women?

3. Dr. Stratham Younger, a thirty-three-year-old Harvard graduate who teaches at Clark University and who is the narrator of the book, insisted at age seventeen that all great art and scientific discoveries were made at or near the turn of a century (Michelangelo’s David- 1501; Cervantes’s Don Quixote-1604; Beethoven’s symphonies-1800; Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams-1900, etc.) Discuss this phenomenon.

4. Is Younger the right man for the job of trying to unravel the attempted murder of Nora? Discuss psychoanalysis versus interrogation.

5. Consider the role of class conflict in the book: Jung’s feelings of shame over his obvious wealth; Jung versus Freud; Acton versus Banwell; Chong versus Leon; Malley and Betty, etc.

6. What role does psychological transference and sexual attraction play in the book?

7. Younger asks, “How can human beings be loved if we carry within such repugnant desires?” Freud thinks that Nora wants to sodomize her father. Is this ultimately true?

8. Discuss the author’s mix of fact and fiction. How has this device been used in previous New York novels, such as The Alienist, Ragtime, Dreamland: A Novel, Paradise Alley, etc.

9. Younger is obsessed with solving the riddle of Hamlet in the book. Discuss his analysis of “to be or not to be” in terms of Freudian/Oedipal theories. What does Younger finally decide? Is this the correct interpretation?

10. Younger says, “Some people feel a need to bring about the very thing that will most torment them.” How does this describe the characters in the book?

11. When he boards the ship back to Europe, Freud says that “America is a mistake.... A gigantic mistake.” What does he mean?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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