Picks and Pans Review: Therapy

updated 08/14/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/14/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by David Lodge

What can the matter be with Laurence "Tubby" Passmore? His TV sitcom is a long-running hit, and the balding 58-year-old scriptwriter is bulging with money, a wife and mistress, two homes and a sinfully deluxe car he calls the Richmobile. But oh dear, there's that wretched pain in his knee, which surgery cannot mend; an onset of impotence, which the women in his life cannot remedy; and a nagging melancholy, which neither acupressure nor aromatherapy can lift. Then comes the deluge; suddenly his job is in jeopardy, and his wife demands a divorce. And when Tubby, who in his misery has latched on to the works of Kierkegaard, suggests a TV series on the existentialist philosopher, everyone presumes the poor chap has gone off the deep end of despair.

Cleverly written in the form of journal entries (a suggestion, it turns out, by Tubby's psychologist), Therapy drags a bit at first as the dour patient maps out his malaise. But then Lodge has the good sense to let it rip as he sends Tubby on a comic, wholly unpredictable course of soul-searching and redemption.

The acclaimed British author of Nice Work and Small World, Lodge infuses nearly every page with his relentless intelligence and dry wit, which often merge into exquisite passages (a traffic jam on the M1 is ascribed to the highway having "broken out in a rash of cones, like scarlet fever"). And his characters brim with arrogance, pain, tenderness and humanity—the women as much as the men.

When, in true Freudian fashion, Tubby remembers the sweetheart he wronged in his callow youth—and realizes how that deed hardened his heart—he's desperate to set things right. There may be no easy fixes, but he does find plump reward at road's end. (Viking, $22.95)

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