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Paranoia of Everyday LifeReview - Paranoia of Everyday Life
Escaping the Enemy Within
by Gerald Alper
Prometheus Books, 2005
Review by Leo Uzych, J.D., M.P.H.
Apr 17th 2007 (Volume 11, Issue 16)

The Paranoia of Everyday Life disentangles meticulously the knotty strands of psychological dynamics sorely entangling patients in the grip of everyday paranoia.  The author, Gerald Alper, is a psychotherapist in New York City who examines insightfully and informatively the intricate dynamics of everyday paranoia through his revealing microscope of psychoanalytic psychotherapy.  Alper is also a masterful writer.  And the impressive handiwork of this highly adept intellectual artisan further embodies his exceptional linguistic skill.

The book is characterized distinctively by a rather unusual structural duality.  Part of the substantive contents are in the form of a clinical psychology book.  But the book's last chapter is structured innovatively as a quite lengthy, and very captivating, literary screenplay.  Wielding a psychologically sharp cutting scalpel with artful dexterity, Alper deeply flays the psychology skin of the play's assorted characters, painfully exposing emotional dysfunction, behavioral deviance, and psychopathy as well as the endearing flesh of love, loyalty, trust, and compassion.

In expertly plumbing the depths of the human psyche, in relation particularly to the paranoia of everyday life, Alper writes in a technically sophisticated manner which stylistically slants the book rather steeply towards academics and professionals.  The play sewed dextrously into the substantive fabric, however, should be of mesmerizing interest to laypersons, and others, drawn to drama tinged heavily with psychological intrigue.

Four chapters comprise the mainstay structural pillars upholding the book's foundation.  There is also a structural antechamber, in the form of a "preface".  Although there is relatively little direct attachment of the substantive contents to particular references, a modest number of alphabetized references are joined to the substantive body, and may be helpful to readers bent on further research.

In the book's preface, the reader is engagingly introduced to some of Alper's thoughtful musings regarding paranoia.  As contemplated by Alper, the psyche of the paranoid affected person characteristically is drenched in dread and suspense, but is strikingly devoid of trust.  Alper further ruminates that reality based trust of the other is a powerful antidote to the spread of paranoid thinking.  Alper opines, as well, that the link of "everyday paranoia" should be truncated from the confining chains of psychological classification which, in his view, have incarcerated it.

Importantly, the preface explains also that the persons portrayed in the book are based on actual patients Alper has known and worked with.  The psychologically intriguing stories of some of these patients, as recounted graphically and tellingly by Alper, blow into the nostrils of the book the enlivening and animating breath of real life vitality.

Commencing with Chapter One, Alper recounts anecdotes characteristically involving patients entrapped, in a frightful way, in some tormenting paranoid quandary.  The typically assiduous examination of paranoid episodes involving particular patients places on brilliant display the quite engaging, albeit decidedly abstruse, writing and analytic prowess of Alper.  In enthralling, if sobering, detail, a patient's paranoia concerning rodents, another patient's relentless thoughts about suicide and contact with the dead (which Alper ascribes to an urge to break free from a paranoid fear of real world living), and paranoid causing fear of being socially stigmatized are all eyed perspicaciously, by Alper, through his discerning lens of psychoanalytic psychotherapy.

In his usual absorbing manner, Alper, in Chapter Two, chronicles a series of paranoid events as a means of studying the core dynamics of everyday paranoia.  In the judgment of Alper, none of the patients chronicled are clinically psychotic; however, in his view, they all are highly prone to the paranoia of everyday life.  A patient's paranoid thoughts connected with being the sole occupant of a rush hour subway car; a staring episode, in which a patient is obsessed about why a woman on a subway car stared at him; a woman's paranoia with respect to some unknown man in the street, and, especially, the man's poster; a paranoid episode involving a man who wasn't sure how to speak to a deaf girl; and a patient's seed of dislike for her doctor, which germinates into paranoid panic, are interestingly and insightfully probed and examined under the watchful eye of psychotherapist Alper.

In illumining Chapter Three, Alper shines abundantly revealing intellectual light on the interconnection linking paranoia and the dread of being powerless.  Among the subjects broached gingerly by Alper, within the encasing frame of a recondite discussion of "power", are:  power struggles, the dynamics of the strategy of "bluffing", the concept of "fairness", sundry "power plays", the "power" ramifications of intimacy, the interesting interplay of power and "courage", "hierarchical nurturance", and "pseudo-autonomy".

In concluding Chapter Four, Alper plunges doughtily into the psychologically challenging waters of paranoia by utilizing the medium of a play.  In a terse exordium leading up to the play, Alper explains that a patient (given the fictional name of "Becky") is one of the most intriguing patients he has ever met.  Becky's intriguing, and gut wrenching, story is innovatively presented, in lengthy fashion, in the guise of a play.  Except for the fictionalizing of the names of the characters and certain plot incidentals, the play is wedded otherwise to real life.

In highly encapsulated form, the play's plot focuses on the character named Becky, and the dark, inner forces that torment her terribly.  Suffering from humiliation, filled with pain, and given to violent impulses, Becky is a psychologically compromised person.  And the bedeviling demons long plaguing her psyche are psychologically pivotal to a cascade of dreary events culminating in Becky's killing of a woman by means of violent force, and to her behavior afterwards.  In a succinct "postscript", to the play, Alper ponders that Becky's story exemplifies the urgency of the true self's need to be affirmed, and the horrid consequences that may descend if this need is severely stymied by a loveless family.

The prospective reader of this brilliantly written play should be aware that, in a psychological sense, the unfolding plot climbs down the  ladder of human behavior to the dregs of the lower rungs.  The pages of the play are suffused with variant forms of human violence, degradation, and depravity, which are described graphically and often with the use of salacious language.  The perverseness and intensity of the dark emotions and behaviors beclouding the play may, indeed, leave the reader feeling quite drained.

Critically, some may carp that Alper's use of two disparate writing mediums, placed contiguously to one another, is akin to the attempted fitting of a square shaped play into the round aperture of a clinical psychology book.  But the play, indubitably, is very craftily written and psychologically powerful.

The non play part of the book, penned by wordsmith and exemplary psychotherapist Alper, raises different possible concerns.  The book's non play part is enshrouded by an aura of stylistic and substantive abstruseness.

Alper's esoteric musings, moreover, have roots implanted firmly in qualitative intellectual soil, rendering them resistant, if not impervious, to quantitative centric evaluation.

But it cannot be gainsaid that the adeptness of Alper, with respect to psychoanalytic psychotherapy tethered particularly to paranoia, is instructively and engrossingly enlightening.  Psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, psychoanalysts, social workers, and family counselors are among those who very likely will be edifyingly enthralled by this magnificent book.


© 2007 Leo Uzych


Leo Uzych (based in Wallingford, PA) earned a law degree, from Temple University; and a master of public health degree, from Columbia University.  His area of special professional interest is healthcare.


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