John Blumenthal

"What's Wrong with Dorfman?"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark JUL 30, 2000)

What's Wrong with Dorfman? by John Blumenthal

Forty-year old comedy screenwriter Martin Dorfman suffers from a litany of ailments. He feels woozy and unbalanced; his legs are weak and rubbery; his skin is cold to the touch; he's sensitive to light; normal sounds are suddenly irritating; at times his hands shake uncontrollably; he feels continuous nausea, like a light seasickness; has a "tumor-like" feeling in his lower abdomen; and, he is experiencing great weight loss. On his worst days he doesn't want to get out of bed and driving a car is out of the question. Even his doctor tells him "You don't look so hot, Martin." But can his doctor find a single thing wrong with him? "Stress," is Dr. Margolis' initial prognosis. Ironically, when he's the most stressed, his symptoms disappear. And after a battery of tests, Dr. Margolis gives Martin the news that he's "strong as a horse." The picture of health. You should live to be ninety." But Martin doesn't feel healthy. So, what's wrong with him?

Read excerptIn What's Wrong with Dorfman?, Martin humorously relates his two year sojourn in which he explores all avenues of modern and alternative medicine and meets a sympathetic, if not symbiotic, friend in the process. Delilah Foster is clearly more experienced with the whole misdiagnosis routine than Dorfman. All the time that he is being prodded, poked and probed, he is reluctantly seeing Nora, a psychologist. Naturally, Nora pushes Martin to explore his childhood and family relations. And this proves even richer material for the reader than all of Martin's narration on the medical adventures. Martin's father is a doctor, but not a very competent one, and so completely obsessive that Martin's whole family hides injuries from the "medical terrorist" no matter how bad. "What kind of a family is this when the agonizing pain of a compound fracture does not phase her, a five-year-old child, as much as the prospect of our father finding out about it!" It is Nora who pieces together the connections between the start of Martin's symptoms (his wife and the kids leave for Germany for a month) and the triggering event that is buried so deep in his psyche that Nora makes him call his sister for the answer.

So if this book is so humorous, why did I originally include it in the Family Relations section and not with the Humorous Fiction books? While funny, the humor is a reflex to deal with the underlying story which has to do with family. Or I should say, the bigger question of family. That if it's so painful to belong to one, why is it that we all work so hard to propagate them? "Continuity" is Martin's father's answer to why one would build a bomb shelter. As it turns out, Dorfman learns that dad was right, "continuity" is what it really is all about. When we are wired correctly, it makes all the sense in the world, even when there is no sense. Wired wrong, and the whole uninterrupted succession of generation after generation is too much to bear. Then it is time to take little pink pills. I can't help but relate a comment in the Rants and Raves section of the July 2000 Wired magazine in which a Mr. Charpentier points out that "Unlike humans, a computer would see the pointlessness of endless reproduction... Pure logic would compel it to shut itself down."

Sometimes the mere notion of "continuity" is too much for us to contend with and our brains misfire. Sometimes we need a pink pill so that we don't go and sit in the garage with the car running. And sometimes we simply need a book like What's Wrong with Dorfman? so that we can laugh at our human condition and our current society. After all, humor in physiology refers to body fluid such as blood, lymph or bile. Humor is essential to our well being.

Note: This review was written about the original self-published version, but the author assures me there are no changes in the St. Martin's Press new hard cover version.

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Read a chapter excerpt from What's Wrong with Dorfman at

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About the Author:

John BlumenthalJohn Blumenthal was born in Middletown, New York in 1949. He attended Tufts University and is a former editor and columnist for Playboy Magazine. He is also co-author of two feature films: Short Time (1990) and Blue Streak (1999) About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014