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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 44.
- Review Date: 2006-10-09
- Reviewer: Staff
The author's rampant agoraphobia and compensatory claustrophobia leave him terrified of almost any unfamiliar space, including highways, fields, elevators, bridges, tunnels, heights and airplanes; a walk down a country lane leaves him panting and paralyzed with fear. In this absorbing memoir, Shawn—a composer, son of legendary New Yorker editor William Shawn and brother of actor Wallace Shawn—approaches his panics from several angles. He explores the neurophysiology of phobic fear as an exaggerated, partly hereditary version of the innate human response to environmental threats. But he also offers a heavily Freudian account of his own panics, linking them to his parents' overprotectiveness and the resulting psychosexual and oedipal conflicts he suppressed from childhood onward. The latter perspective informs his vivid portraits of his family life; his brilliant, conflicted father, who suffered from similar phobias; and his autistic twin sister. Drawing on the writings of fellow agoraphobes like Emily Dickinson and Blaise Pascal, Shawn makes his fear of vast, exposed spaces a metaphor for humanity's existential predicament, an inchoate realization that "our brief life span is surrounded on all sides by nothingness." The result is both a lucid explication of psychopathology and a deeply felt evocation of a "pain in the soul." (Feb. 7)