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Jane Alpert’s Defense

In response to:

Bombs Away from the January 21, 1982 issue

To the Editors:

Mr. Kempton has made it abundantly clear, he thoroughly dislikes just about every aspect of Jane Alpert’s Growing Up Underground. The reviewer makes his point compellingly and in great detail. To state his opinion clearly and unambiguously, though at times painful for the author, is a critic’s right, if not his duty. However, when the critic’s anger spills over onto innocent third parties he ceases to write criticism, he smears. To slander the person who is presumed to be the maligned author’s analyst, bound by the ironclad laws of confidentiality and trust, is in my view not only foolish but constitutes a serious breach of whatever professional ethics there are in journalism.

I value my professional integrity, I value The New York Review of Books, and I have always valued Mr. Kempton’s opinion. So what am I to make of the following paragraph, which is meant to explain an assumed cause and effect relationship between Ms. Alpert’s immersion in the books of Ayn Rand as a teenager and her subsequent alignment with terrorists:

It would be delightful to send Senator Jeremiah Denton off on the hunt after Ayn Rand as inspiration for the crimes and follies here set forth; but it seems more plausible that what we are hearing is the mechanical click of Dr. Susanne Schad-Somers, the feminist psychiatrist, who seems to have been the last of the avatars who led Jane Alpert down such a variety of roads; and we are left with the impression of hour after therapeutic hour scouring after the sources of her distraction with intervals when the patient cries out, “There, now I see; that’s it,” and the “it” turns out to be nothing more profound than Ayn Rand.

Mr. Kempton has never met me in person, socially, professionally, or otherwise; nor could he have read my book at the time he wrote his review. In fact he did not even bother to get my name or credentials straight. Moreover, only after reading the acknowledgements to Growing Up Underground with obvious care, did he conclude that I must have been Ms. Alpert’s analyst while she wrote the book, a deduction which he then treats as a fact, and one which for obvious reasons I can neither affirm nor deny.

Despite these obvious limitations he divined an entire therapeutic scenario as it might have taken place in a bad soap opera circa 1940. After dismissing it with a considerable amount of arrogance, the critic then proceeds to offer his own psychoanalytic interpretations of Ms. Alpert’s life and character.

Is it possible that Mr. Kempton who chided Ms. Alpert so severely for her seemingly cavalier attitude toward random violence is quite capable of a similar disregard—though not for the life—but for the professional reputation of the innocent bystanders of the manifestations of his own rage? Why the prefix “feminist” in this context? To better explain the foolishness of the analysis as he understands it? What is the “mechanical click” that Mr. Kempton heard clear across Manhattan and in the privacy of his study? How does he know for a fact that the manuscript was ever discussed?

In our business we come across a lot of curious responses. I have been berated by angry parents for not properly “straightening out” their offspring. I have been villified by enraged husbands and wives for not returning their respective spouses to wedded warfare. Now I have been slandered by a respected critic for not seeing to it that an author who is presumed to be a patient of mine, for not having written the kind of book that Mr. Kempton would have like to have read. This is truly a first.

If Mr. Kempton knew anything about psychoanalysis, which quite clearly he does not, he would know that perhaps the most basic tenet of our profession is respect for what the patient is becoming, not what other people want him or her to be. Mr. Kempton’s ignorance about psychotherapy is forgivable; his disregard for the basic principles of his own profession I find merely sad.

Susanne P. Schad-Somers

New York City

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