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Reviewed by Jon Michael Miller for Readers' Favorite
Doctor Bob: Amorous Adventures of a Psychiatrist Addicted to Women and Alcohol by Peter Kelton is a challenging, complex amalgam of psychiatry, cosmology, birdwatching, communing with animals, fine food and drink, chaotic relationships, Japanese design, Mafia surveillance, the pathos of Skid Row, Amazonian forestry, helping others, and finding one’s ideal mate. Mailorder psychiatrist Robert Bennet gets drunk with his alcoholic patients so he can identify with them. He is a practitioner of Active Listening. He believes in a therapy that exhausts the patient’s concerns about whatever—in this case, a lot of astrophysics—until said patient discovers his or her true identity and goes about trying to live it. In a lecture to community college advisers, a key to the message of a tangled narrative, he explains that we (all of us) have the capacity for addiction to something, whether alcohol or work or whatever. The trick is to find a balance between what we crave and the remainder of our existence.
In reading Peter Kelton’s often bewildering and challenging book, I learned a lot. I didn’t allow myself to get thrown off by Dr. Bob’s dreadful violation of professional ethics, or the long, mind-bending flights into the risk of madness by the study of astrophysics, or even his connection with the Trafficante crime family, or the differences among Alice, Angela, Jennifer, Lori, Susan, Kimberly, Megan, Melissa, and Linda. Or the confusing web of chronology. Great books are always challenging, and part of this masterpiece of angst, agony, and ambiguity is listening. In this case, patient reading. Doctor Bob by Peter Kelton is about what every great book is about—how to live and love in a chaotic universe. Be persistent enough, read as though you are actively listening, and answers will pop up in as unlikely a spot as a pajama pillow fight to the crooning of Willie Nelson.