UNITED STATES—The second half of Otis Quigley Keefauver’s ambitious new Freud-inspired fictional spree begins promisingly enough. After defeating Great Britain, Germany annexes it to the Reich. Drunk on power, Hitler decides to have a plebiscite. At first no one knows what a plebiscite is, and they have everything fumigated.
After the votes are counted, Hitler is ousted, peace breaks out and world war is averted, along with the atomic age. In one authentically clever moment, Quigley Keefauver, spoofs Hannah Arendt’s famous remark about the Nuremberg Trials—“the banality of evil”—and in this novel’s boring but peaceful alternate universe Arendt has only the Andrews Sisters to decry as “the banality of banality.”
Meanwhile, after the sudden fall of the Reich in 1937, Freud grows increasingly resentful of his dentist and daughter Anna who had urged him to leave Germany. The second half of Freud in New York begins with the distinguished émigré now working as night man at a newsstand. Sigmund grieves for the loss of his great love, Rhonda. a showgirl trampled in a ballroom stampede, and has renounced intellectual life.
In a letter to his dentist the father of psychoanalysis lashes out, “Because of alarmists like you and Anna, I have been made a laughing stock. If I live 1000 years, I shall never live down my gloomy comments about Europe made at Columbia University.”
Meanwhile, the tide of unusual events causes Hitler to shave his moustache and change his name to Emmet Hitler. After a rough time in Paris, selling dirty postcards that smudged his clients’ fingers, he ultimately immigrates to Hollywood to pursue a childhood dream of acting. Here he buys a movie-star rag. A bearded, white-haired man who tends the magazine stand gives the customer change. The customer’s hand flinches and pennies and nickels spill over the counter.
“I’m sorry,” says the cashier.
“My fault,” says Hitler.
“Classic transference of guilt. A lot of things were your fault, but not what just happened.”
“Didn’t you used to be someone,” Hitler says.
“I was,” replies Freud. “And so were you.”
Freud and Hitler shake hands and share a reflective moment, before Freud runs the former dictator off with a flyswatter after deeming he has spent too much time ogling in the girlie magazine section.
A pat ending that panders to the public’s hunger for a “happy” ending, it seems forced and contrived and leaves this reviewer wishing Otis Quigley Keefauver had been more rigorous in facing the historical vacuum left by Hitler’s ouster. A novel of this scope is begging for a bigger, more depressing finish. Imagine if Rockette Rhoda had turned out to belong to an elite team of government agents who returns, after miraculously surviving the ballroom stampede, appealed to an embittered and nearly forgotten Freud to save Western Culture from its mortal ennui. Who better than he who knew humankind’s innermost fears and secrets?
Freud could have started to toy again with narcissistic repulsion theory that stemmed from his belief that the instinct to use coasters, not present in any other species, mirrors both self-hate (Selbstverachtung) and the deep-seated taboo against leaving glasses on fine hardwood surfaces.
Beside reconciling him with Karl Gustav Jung, with whom Freud had broken bitterly when they dissented over the role of eggplant in the formation of the libido, awakening self-hate would have been the ticket to get the world turning again, so to speak, and he knew this other brilliant German long-hair, Einstein, with a lot of time on his hands at Cal Tech. “We create this big Boom, blame it on the Germans. Nobody’ll be the wiser.”
This would have been so much more satisfying conclusion than the saccharine handshake. We regret too that the gifted but lazy, Otis Quigley Keefauver chose an alternate geography and depicted the Freuds living in Germany instead of Austria. He wasted a good opportunity to find some badly needed comic relief in Anna Freud’s well-known fetish for Vienna sausage.
Grady Miller is a humorist and author of “Late Bloomer,” comic essays (Amazon).