Literature Annotations


Pies, Ronald
Zimmerman's Tefillin


Genre Collection (Short Stories) (175 pp.)
KeywordsAdolescence, Aging, Children, Death and Dying, Dementia, Doctor-Patient Relationship, Family Relationships, Humor and Illness/Disability, Mental Illness, Physician Experience, Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, Religion, Spirituality
Summary

This is a collection of humane and humorous stories by psychiatrist Ronald Pies. Many of them portray snippets of Jewish-American family life; others feature Pies's alter egos, young psychiatrists named Applebaum; or Ackerman, or Alterman; still others introduce a number of wonderful geriatric characters the reader is unlikely to forget.

In the title story, an elderly man lies in the hospital and remembers how he inserted snippets of pornography into his business partner's tefillin nearly 40 years earlier, just to spite his holier-than-thou partner, who had evicted his Playboy magazines from the premises. "Mandelbaum's Passion" is the story of an elderly professor whose daughter wants to put him into a nursing home. He, on the other hand, focuses his energy on anticipating the twice-weekly visits of Luz, his 26-year-old Hispanic visiting nurse.

Dr. Otto Hertzmann in "Show Us Where God Is" is a retired analytic psychiatrist who lives with his sister. When a young admirer comes to visit, the sister introduces him to Davie, Hertzmann's severely retarded son who, when asked to "show us where God is," grins widely and points to the ceiling. Max Dershman, found dead in his room "stinking of cheap cigars and surrounded by Playboy centerfolds," is another such character. He falls head over heels in love with Riva Greenberg, the nursing home social worker, and leaves her a love letter when he dies ("A Medical Diptych"). In "Sophie Fein Goldberg Stein" the title character insists on always being addressed by her full name--at least, that is, until the nursing home psychiatrist is willing to sit down and listen to the full story of her life.

CommentaryThe stories that appeal to me most, and seem most useful from the literature in medicine perspective, are the characterizations of "seniors," to use the politically correct euphemism for old people. There is Mrs. Shlomowitz, who gets a young physician who lives in the same apartment building to fix her toilet ("Mrs. Shlomowitz's Toilet"); Professor Heinz Behrmann, who corresponds with the sister of one of his jailers at Buchenwald; Sam Smucker, the elderly man in "Zimmerman's Tefillin"; and Mandelbaum and Hertzmann and, of course, Sophie Fein Goldberg Stein herself. Dr. Pies gets beneath the skin of these characters and shows their humanity. They are vulnerable, humorous, wise, and courageous human beings.
PublisherPublish America
Edition2004
Place PublishedBaltimore
Annotated by Coulehan, Jack
Date of Entry 10/19/04