I managed to hit upon a premise. It was a premise that allowed the book to be described in a sound bite. It became the Freud murder thriller.
I knew about a real life mystery that surrounds Sigmund Freud’s one and only visit to the United States. He came here in 1909.
By all objective measures, he had a tremendously successful visit here and yet he spoke of his trip to America as if it scarred him in some way and no one knows why. The Interpretation of Murder fills up that imaginary space.
New York city in 1909 is a place of fantastic change. Skyscrapers are being built. Motorcars are replacing horses and into this city walks Sigmund Freud. But the very next day he gets drawn into a murder case which becomes quickly a psychoanalytic case and the reason why is because the second victim doesn’t die. She survives the attack, but she’s lost her memory and it turns out she’s suffering from a kind of hysteria. The kind of hysteria that Freud is the first to diagnose and treat with psychotherapy.
The hero of the book is Dr Stratum Junger who is one of the first Americans who sees some of the importance. Some of the great importance of Freud’s ideas.
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The book traces the simultaneous investigation by the police from the murder on the one hand and the psychoanalysis of the victim Nora on the other. Until these two methods of investigation converge.
About 90% of the dialogue that Freud and Jung speak is taken from actual books, essays, letters that they wrote.
I dug through thousands of new paper articles and lots of books so that I would make New York City of 1909 as real as I could possibly make it.
Two of the most important scenes in the Interpretation of Murder take place here. Not the solid tour, but below that where they sunk the foundations for this great tower. They had to build what they called a caisson. It was like a great big Diving Bell like the size of a building. When they would do the dynamite and the excavating then when the men came up out of that bridge they began to suffer from terrible illnesses which killed many of them and crippled many others.
When you look at the scene of New York City in 1909 you’re looking at the foundation of the modern American life as we would come to know it.
High society changed from a quiet aristocratic crowd to a fusion of scandal and power and money as it is today. Into this, city walks Sigmund Freud with his own scandalous ideas about sexuality, ideas that would change America and influence it. So this mixture of America changing its face and the new ideas that would change modern American society this is what I was trying to capture, at least in part, in the Interpretation of Murder.
– Jed Rubenfeld