Excerpt from The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Interpretation of Murder

A Novel

by Jed Rubenfeld

The Interpretation of Murder
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2006, 384 pages
    Jun 2007, 450 pages

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His eyes were another matter. Brill had warned me about them. As Freud descended the ship’s ramp, his eyes were fearsome, as if he were in a towering temper. Perhaps the calumny he had long endured in Europe had worked a permanent scowl into his brow. Or perhaps he was unhappy to be in America. Six months ago, when President Hall of Clark University—my employer—first invited Freud to the United States, he turned us down. We were not sure why. Hall persisted, explaining that Clark wished to confer on Freud the university’s highest academic honor, to make him the centerpiece of our twentieth-anniversary celebrations, and to have him deliver a series of lectures on psychoanalysis, the first ever to be given in America. In the end Freud accepted. Was he now regretting his decision?
All these speculations, I soon saw, were unfounded. As he stepped off the gangway, Freud lit a cigar—his first act on American soil—and the moment he did so the scowl vanished, a smile came to his face, and all the seeming choler drained away. He inhaled deeply and looked about him, taking in the harbor’s size and chaos with what looked like amusement.
Brill greeted Freud warmly. They knew each other from Europe; Brill had even been to Freud’s home in Vienna. He had described that evening to me—the charming Viennese house filled with antiquities, the doting and doted-on children, the hours of electrifying conversation—so often I knew his stories by heart.
From nowhere a knot of reporters appeared; they gathered around Freud and yelled out questions, mostly in German. He answered with good humor but seemed baffled that an interview should be conducted in so haphazard a fashion. At last Brill shooed them away and pulled me forward.
“Allow me,” Brill said to Freud, “to present Dr. Stratham Younger, a recent graduate of Harvard University, now teaching at Clark, and sent down by Hall specially to take care of you during your week in New York. Younger is without question the most talented American psychoanalyst. Of course, he is also the only American psychoanalyst.”
“What,” said Freud to Brill, “you don’t call yourself an analyst, Abraham?”
“I don’t call myself American,” Brill replied. “I am one of Mr. Roosevelt’s ‘hyphenated Americans,’ for which, as he says, there is no room in this country.”
Freud addressed me. “I am always delighted,” he said in excellent English, “to meet a new member of our little movement, but especially here in America, for which I have such hopes.” He begged me to thank President Hall for the honor Clark had bestowed on him.
“The honor is ours, sir,” I replied, “but I’m afraid I hardly qualify as a psychoanalyst.”
“Don’t be a fool,” said Brill, “of course you do.” He then introduced me to Freud’s two traveling companions. “Younger, meet the eminent Sándor Ferenczi of Budapest, whose name is synonymous throughout Europe with mental disorder. And here is the still more eminent Carl Jung of Zurich, whose Dementia will one day be known all over the civilized world.”
“Most happy,” said Ferenczi in a strong Hungarian accent, “most happy. But please to ignore Brill; everyone does, I assure you.” Ferenczi was an affable sandy-haired fellow in his late thirties, brightly attired in a white suit. You could see that he and Brill were genuine friends. Physically, they made a nice contrast. Brill was among the shortest men I knew, with close-set eyes and a wide flat-topped head. Ferenczi, although not tall, had long arms, long fingers, and a receding hairline that elongated his face as well.

Copyright © 2006 by Jed Rubenfeld

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