Shari Thurer, ScD, Psychotherapist Member of BPSI. Her remarks below originally appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of the Hann Sachs Library Newsletter, which can be read here.
Review of Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday, Simon & Schuster, 2018, 288 pp.
“Tell all the truth,” wrote Emily Dickenson, “but tell it slant.” Author Lisa Halliday took her advice. In her much-praised novel Asymmetry, Halliday writes about an affair between elderly Ezra Blazer, a dead ringer for Philip Roth, with whom Halliday had a real life romantic relationship, and twenty-something aspiring writer Alice, who, like the author, worked in publishing. But this is no roman a clef. Rather, Halliday is using the asymmetrical relationship to examine unequal power dynamics between established writers and new authors — the “anxiety of influence”- how Blazer’s stature as a world-famous writer complicates Alice’s own literary ambitions.
The story unfolds in three disparate sections. The first part, “Folly,” describes the May-December romance between geriatric Blazer and youngish Alice, to whom he provides gifts and a reading list. The reader is left to wonder whether this is autobiography or fiction. I suspect Halliday is coyly encouraging real-world identifications only to subvert them. There is a radical shift in point of view in the second section, “Madness,” which is essentially a monologue by young American-Iraqi economist, Amar Jaafari, who is detained at border control in London en route to Kurdistan. Sami, his brother, has been killed; Amar is alive in America — another asymmetry. The challenge to the reader is to figure out how these two sections belong together. The coda, a transcript of an interview on BBC radio with Ezra Blazer, contains a clue.
Given Halliday’s intriguing background story, her writing is undoubtedly of interest to the older psychoanalytic reader who may recall Philip Roth’s extravagant sexuality. But prurient appeal and off-balance structure aside, Asymmetry tells three great stories that combine into an interesting, topical whole.
Shari Thurer, ScD, is a member of BPSI’s Library Committee, a psychologist in Boston, former professor at Boston University, and author of a number of notable books and articles.
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