Neurotica by Sue Margolis
(Bantam, $16.95, NC-17) ISBN 0-553-10984-7
***
If I see one more book jacket that compares a given novel to Bridget Jones' Diary I will hurl the offending book against the wall in disgust. How has that slight novel become the standard for modern literature? Argh. Despite Bantam's insistence on yet another comparison, there are only two similarities between this novel and the infamous BJD that I can see: the author is British and the main character is a female. As I was reading Neurotica, the standard for comparison that kept coming to my mind was last year's gross-out sex comedy, There's Something About Mary.

In other words, this novel is raunchy, sexy and frequently gross-out disgusting. It's definitely not for the faint-hearted. Consider yourself warned: if you don't mind reading such a novel that also happens to feature thoroughly dislikable characters, you might appreciate Neurotica's humor. If not, you will be offended, shocked and repulsed.

Anna Shapiro is fed up with her hypochondriac husband, Dan. It has been three years since the Shapiros engaged in sexual activity. Recently Dan has been too busy obsessing over his latest imagined fatal disease to fulfill his marital duties. Anna, a tabloid reporter, sees a golden opportunity when her editor asks her to write a piece on an American feminist who celebrates the "clitoris-centered woman." This feminist paragon can engage in extra-marital affairs purely for the physical pleasure and keep her emotions uninvolved. Ignoring her editor's suggestion to interview three women who have had such affairs, Anna decides instead to put the book's theory to the test herself. She will personally engage in three "clitoris-centered" affairs for the sake of research -- and to ease her sexual frustration. The first opportunity presents itself, surprisingly enough, at the funeral of a distant relative. The experiment is off and running, but what effect will it have on Anna, Dan and their marriage? Will Dan stop testing his bodily fluids long enough to notice that Anna is shagging her way through London?

As a Jewish-American, I appreciated the opportunity to read about a Jewish-British woman. It was interesting to realize that Jewish neuroses are the same across continents. I also must admit to laughing out loud several times -- the predicaments that both Anna and Dan get themselves into are outrageously hysterical. My favorite occurs when Dan starts carrying a portable fire extinguisher in his briefcase after reading an article about human spontaneous combustion.

But the humor frequently crosses the line between outrageous and offensive. If you would be offended by a lengthy description of Dan's search for the right vessel in which to deposit his stool sample, or Anna's frantic efforts to eradicate her gray pubic hairs before her first assignation, you should stay far away from Neurotica.

And if you insist on reading about sympathetic characters, you're barking up the wrong tree. Dan is a passive, neurotic schlemiel, while Anna is a self-centered bitch. Do the two live happily-ever-after, either together or apart? Do I care? Also, Jewish mothers are not well-represented here: Dan's late mother is remembered as a hypercritical control freak whose behavior has single-handedly caused Dan's hypochondriasis, while Anna's mother is a loving but compulsively cleaning fruitcake.

The ending of the novel is funny but abrupt. I closed the book feeling as if I needed a long, hot shower to wash away the slightly unclean feeling it left behind. Neurotica certainly isn't for everyone, but if you dare take it on, you might find yourself having a few guilty laughs.

--Susan Scribner


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