Sunday, March 19, 2006

Review of Ken Goldberg's Peter Squared

Ken Goldberg’s novel Peter Squared is an interesting read. It is about Peter Branstill who is a 43-year old mathematically obsessed accountant. He is (in lay terms what sounds like an) obsessive compulsive, neurtotic guy who we would all say should be in therapy, or given something to help him with his condition. He is a man with no friends, no emotional life, and who thinks that it would be a great idea to try to make friends at the peep shows he frequents, and masturbates frequently while fantasizing about horses. He calculates the days he has been sane, and calculates most everything, actually, including the dirt of which he is deathly afraid. He meets a guy named John and they become friends in an odd sort of way, though it is not clear that Peter ever actually says a word to John.

This book says a lot about clinical research and what it might be like to be someone like Peter. If you plan on going in to clinical psychology, it is worth reading. As a novel it is OK, but I kinda liked it.

I happen to have the press release that came from the book’s publicist. It is the dumbest thing I ever read. It claims that the author’s treatment is a “humanistic, existential viewpoint of the mental health system”. What the hell is an existential viewpoint of a mental health system? Apparently there are also unorthodox views on religion and morality in the book.

There are suggested questions that you might want to ask Ken Goldberg, the author, should you ever be interviewing him and was not really in the mood to spend the two hours actually reading the book. (Keeping in mind that the book came out in 2000) here are some of the questions: “. . . To what degree is your work autobiographical?” (I do not want to know how autobiographical one is being when he talks a lot about sexual fantasies involving horses.) “We have a president who apparently feels torn between his sexual drive and his moral code. What is your take on whether Clinton lied when he denied having sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky?” (As if there is a “take” on whether he lied. The real question is whether or not we should care if he lied during a sexual harassment suit, and if presidents should be dealing with this. Moreover, Clinton was not torn between anything and anything else. He wanted to not embarrass himself and the office of the presidency; that is why he lied.) “How do you feel about pornography as entertainment for adults?” (I hope Goldberg had a clever and creative answer for this one. It is the dullest question there.)

I wonder how many of these “interviews” he attended. No wonder interviewers appear so mindless. They are not quite sure what they are saying. They just read questions made up for them by a publicist.


KenG said...

This response may be about a year and a half late, but I just googled my book's name and came across this review. I appreciate what appears a generally good review of my book even if you don't like what the publicist did (frankly, I was not happy with the publicist at all and felt that the book was mishandled and consequently not well known). Regarding humanistic and existential, the book is a tongue in cheek commentary on my own profession. I dislike thinking of people as clinical entities rather than struggling human beings. It was my hope to convey the universal nature we all share, regardless of circumstances and diagnosis. Peter could certainly be treated, but he could also chose not. Existentialism factors in with his need to make sense of his own existence. The two vignettes of his treatment experiences are intended to poke fun at some treatment conceptualizations.

Now for your questions. Autobiographical? To an extent. I don't happen to be an animal lover or have any particular affinity for horses, but I was a mathematician before becoming a psychologist, and I have strong criticisms of traditional religion. The book blends a lot of what I think and feel into the story.

Regarding President Clinton, I frankly believe he was one of the more chaste presidents in history. Considering the millions of dollars spent to investigate him, I'm sure they caught all sexual indiscretions during his term of office. If he spent 11 days with Monica, then he must have spent an approximate 2000 days without having sex (unless of course he was having sex with Hillary -- which I would have found the more interesting revelation). My guess is that there are very few presidemts who spent more than 2000 days in office without having sex with someone other than their wife.

I also think the greater moral issue during the impeachment days was not whether he lied under oath but whether the bombing of Bosnia that took place at that time was at all done for political purposes. If one person died from bombings intended to distract the public from impeachment, not for other good purposes, that would be in my mind the impeachable offense.

I don't have a clever or creative answer about pornography for adults. I think there are multiple truths, some involving exploitation of women and some involving the right of anyone to use their bodies in the ways they chose. I also think there is a misconception about sexual addictions. People in good relationships probably have more sex than people who are using peep shows. The question is one's capacity to form relationships, not the act of sex itself. Anyway, I did some research for the book by visiting peep shows (and measuring the dimensions to use for the book). In the course of those visits, I got to talk with some dancers. I found them very interesting people, each with their own stories, each struggling with common human problems.

Ken Goldberg

Karl said...

Thanks for commenting. I generally like books that describe people's inner lives, when their inner lives are so different than mine. Perhaps that is what drew me to the book.

I repeat, I thought the book was a good read, and I have since passed it on to a friend who is working on a PhD in some area of criminal psychology. I thought she might enjoy it.

I do apologize for poking fun at the publicist's questions that I happened to find with the book.

I understood the book to emerge from your own insight in to human nature, and was hoping that an interview would stick to that topic - which I find much more interesting than the Clinton marraige.