A Twenty-First Century Holden Caulfield – Dora: A Headcase

I’m going to preface this by saying that I have an absolute minimum of knowledge in regards to Freudian psychology.  Similarly, all I know about Freud’s own “Dora” case is the very, very brief piece that Wikipedia has on it.

That said, there’s plenty to be enjoyed in Lidia Yuknavitch’s latest novel Dora: A Headcase even without knowledge of the subtle (and not so subtle) Freudian slips. In fact, I’m going to come right out and say it… best book I’ve read all year!  Big apologies to Alif The Unseen, A Hologram For The Kingand Redshirts!

Dora: A Headcase
Lidia Yuknavitch
Hawthorne Books & Literary Arts
234 Pages
August 7, 2012

I’ll be honest… a lot of what drew me to this book was the introduction by Chuck Palahniuk.  Though I haven’t enjoyed every book of his, I’ve found his writing to be consistently interesting even if I can’t get into the plots themselves.  Plus Fight Club and Survivor were a blast!

But I actually haven’t read it yet, even though I’ve finished the novel.  I skipped it because introductions are excellent ways to spoil a novel’s plot.  For instance, I know everything about Anna Karenina and War & Peace thanks to overzealous introductions.

I feel a bit disingenuous playing the Holden Caulfield card in the title.  It almost feels too easy. And it also seems a bit unfair to Yuknavitch to compare her creation to Holden Caulfield, mostly because Ida is only similar in how both novels resonate with me.

I simultaneously love and loathe Holden (and by extension Catcher In The Rye), and I feel the same about Ida in Dora.  The book is very well written, with an electric wit and an  originality of voice that I haven’t felt since I read Broken Glass Park a couple of years ago.  And the main character, Ida\Dora, is endearing… to a point.

For the first few chapters, I wanted to choke Ida with a spoon.  I think a lot of it comes from seeing too much of teen-aged myself in the character (which is why Holden irritates me so much too).

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Dora tells the story of Ida, a 17-year old filmmaker living in Seattle who is on the receiving end of some truly questionable therapy (the name of her therapist, of course, is Sigmund Freud).  Like his namesake “Siggy” (as Ida refers to him) sees dicks everywhere.  Everything is sexual in some manner, or another.

While dealing with an overbearing therapist, Ida also has to endure her father’s affair (with a woman she finds strangely attractive), her very eclectic friends (general hoodlums constantly in pursuit of art… or at least “art”), and a constantly unpredictable mind which seems to want to rebel against anything life throws at her.

Ida’s “posse” includes Ave Maria (a rich teen getting high and drunk on her parents’ dime), Little Teena (a cross-dresser who is also a trained concert pianist), and Obsidian (a Native American who has gone off reservation after being attacked and raped by her step-dad).

Oh and another of Ida’s best friends is another pre-op transsexual named Marlene (formerly Hakizamana Ojo of Rwanda) who gives Ida explicit sex books written in foreign languages.  Marlene is by far my favorite character in the book.

Through the first few chapters Ida is somewhat insufferable, what with her constant need to rebel against everything (coughing over her father’s attempts to communicate seriously with her, flashing her bits to her therapist, drunkenly stripping naked in a Nordstrom’s), but eventually… she starts to become endearing.  Her love and respect for her friends shines through and what once was annoying comes across as oddly refreshing.

There’s a certain point in the novel when tragedy strikes Ida and she transitions from an angry, angsty teenager, to a near-adult enduring a great deal of suffering and sorrow… deep-laid pain that is only beginning to bubble to the surface.

This sadness and pain transitions to the second half of the novel, whereupon we learn that Ida has lost the ability to speak.  I can’t get into much plot after this without delving too deeply into spoilers, but there’s a Viagra overdose, emergency surgery, pushy and violent reality TV producers, and a massive breakout from a juvie detention facility.

The only real flaw in the second half of the novel is the epilogue.  It takes a strong, emotional ending… and ties up all the loose ends in a very frustrating way.  In fact, I’m going to tell you right now just to skip it.

You know those movies that end with a song and a text box for each member of the cast, telling what happened after the movie’s story ends?  That’s this epilogue.  The whole thing is clunky, unnecessary, and rather annoying.

But definitely, definitely read this book.  Lidia Yuknavitch is now one of my favorite authors and I can’t wait to recommend her at every opportunity at work.

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One thought on “A Twenty-First Century Holden Caulfield – Dora: A Headcase

  1. Pingback: Teenage Wasteland – Jenni Fagan’s Panopticon | Books And Bits

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