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Discoveries

August 01, 1999|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

Leonard Shengold's last book, "Soul Murder: Child Abuse and Deprivation," published in 1989, was one of the classics that fueled debate on child abuse, recovered memory and the lasting effects of childhood trauma. The phrase, "soul murder," itself so like a curse, was originally used by Ibsen and Stindberg to mean "the destruction of the love of life in another human being." Shengold writes that this murder "tends to destroy the child's capacity for joy and inhibit the power to care and to love." One of the most troubling aspects of childhood trauma and soul murder--which hasn't changed in 10 years--Shengold repeats, is the necessity for the child "to turn for rescue to the very person who abused--a mind splitting operation." In this volume, Shengold revisits a subject whose focus--the claims of childhood abuse--has shifted in the last 10 years from shock and concern to outright suspicion. One of his main concerns in this volume is how to treat patients who are victims of soul murder. "We cure through love," he writes in a section called "Caritas." "Love for the analyst-therapist makes it possible for the patient to accept as his or her own insight the analyst provides and evokes." If the last book you read on psychology was written by Freud or Jung, you ought to check in with Shengold, one of the unsung pioneers.

LAWNBOY; By Paul Lisicky; (Turtle Point Press: 374 pp., $13.95)

Here is a novel of soul murder in the 'burbs, a niche of fiction large enough to warrant its own section and end cap at Barnes and Noble. If only one could read these novels before adolescence, one might avoid decades of trauma. Against the prima facie decadence of the Florida landscape--palms and bogs and malls and money--17-year-old Evan falls in love with his parent's fortysomething neighbor, William. Evan's parents won't let him come back, even for a visit, after he goes to live with William. He is made to feel as though he has crossed a line and entered an entirely separate culture. He must revisit and repudiate everything from his childhood: his mother, his father, his brother, his education. And yet, the world he peers into--sex parties, gay bars, friends who die of AIDS, hidden affection, is not a world he wants to march boldly into either. Paul Lisicky conveys the sweetness and lostness of a boy, and the senselessness of making him choose between extremes.

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