Rachel is married to passive Leon who is utterly dependent on her care and organizational skills. They live in a vast, blanc-mange of a suburb where Rachel constantly looses her way while driving home from work. One night, she seeks direction from Wilkes. A strange recluse, he is obsessed with his teenage memory of the lost "girl on the bus" and leads a support group for agoraphobics.

Through contact with Wilkes, Leon gradually grows more independent and finds himself a job. Rachel becomes obsessed with the search for the meaning of "Harry," a mystery man who recurs in her husband's dreams and begins to take over her thoughts. She consults a psychologist, Alex Silver, who soon has Rachel enrolled in a study with two other women. Silver uses dream-deprivation with the goal of enhancing insight about her marriage, her life, and her friends.

Cameo appearances of three depressive, mid-life siblings, Dick, Jane, and Sally, with their dog, Spot, and cat, Puff, emphasize that life in modern suburbia can be a pathology in itself. In Jane, Wilkes finds his lost girl on the bus. Rachel dumps Leon and finds happiness with the agoraphobic developer of the aptly named "Arcadia Centre," where expense, space, light, greenery, and intimacy are employed unstintingly to create a non-pathogenic space for human collectivity.


This first novel is a brilliant satire of suburban dwelling with its malls, Muzak, tract housing, atmospheric restaurants, corrupt developers, support groups, and pop psychologists. Dick, Jane, Sally, and their pets are astonishingly familiar to all who learned to read prior to 1965 as the alter-egos and alter-sibs in the widely used school primer, Fun with Dick and Jane. Forty years later, life is no longer fun. Dick is a unidimensional shadow of what he thinks he ought to be; the mellow baby Sally has run to fat, while big sister Jane is selfish, suspicious, and tense, when she is not suicidal.

From a medical perspective, two issues are particularly interesting. First, is Silver's dangerous research, which he has extended to the stolen puss, Puff. The mad but empathic psychologist has an elaborate explanatory framework for his investigations that relies on bogus theory. Second is the disease concept of agoraphobia. This light-hearted story makes the sobering claim that agoraphobia may be a sane response to suburban life.



Place Published

New York



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