Narrated in the first person, the transforming events of Peter's life as a 15 year old are told years later. The opening paragraphs set the scene: "the older brother who went off to school" leaving "the brilliant . . . mother . . . bereft"; the father, "son of a bankrupt Hudson Valley apple grower"; "the darkening drift and dismay of my parents." Into this family unease steps the local veterinarian, Dr. Mason, whom Peter assists during after-school hours, and who is a sometime dinner guest in his parents' home.

Dr. Mason not only tries to persuade Peter to go into a medical profession, ignoring Peter's interests (writing poetry, reading about mountain climbing) but self-importantly insists on "offering [him] lessons in nothing less than all of life" (63). Dr. Mason, we learn, is singularly unqualified to dispense such lessons. He is, at least in Peter's eyes, overbearing and insensitive in his interactions with the owners of the pets he treats, and perhaps even unethical in his professional decisions. Then, Peter discovers, his mother is having an affair with Dr. Mason (who is also married). It is the burden of this knowledge that drives the narrative.


A central issue in this story concerns the tension between the need to narrate, and the impossibility of narration; between the need to confront the "truth" and the impossibility of discussing it. The story's title refers to "the talking cure" of psychoanalysis, yet the first sentence tells us that "Love is unspeakable."

Verbal communication in this family is fraught with danger and pain. Dr. Mason talks at people, not with them. The adolescent Peter struggles to write his rhyming poems -- "the only line I could find for suffering was Bufferin" (65) -- and struggles not to think about dead puppies, his father's certain knowledge of betrayal, and his mother's recklessness. Years later, the story can be told only to us, the readers. Beautifully crafted, the piece is rich with topics for discussion in a medical humanities context (e.g. probelmatic and importance of verbal communication, role of non-verbal communication, narrative point of view, narrative ethics, family dynamics, medical professionalism, truth-telling, empathy).


W. W. Norton

Place Published

New York



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