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`Fine' at its finest when it satirizes psychiatry

Fine, by Samuel Shem. New York: St. Martin's/Marek. 387 pp. $16.95. Fine is a psychiatrist with a problem -- actually, several problems. His wife may be romantically entangled with his best friend, but what she really wants to do is change her name and become a stand-up comedian.

His experiments seem to point to a link between calcium and how grasshoppers learn. As a result, Fine wants to market his own brand of calcium pebbles, leading him to join forces with a man named Nipak Dandi (forming a company called Fine and Dandi).

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Of course, Fine is also preoccupied with his bizarre assortment of patients, and with the mysterious murderer who is apparently assassinating Boston-based psychiatrists. Fine has every reason to believe he may be next.

Author Samuel Shem, himself a Boston-based psychiatrist, has created a tragicomic novel that works best when it satirizes contemporary psychiatry.

``When you don't know what to say, say `Tell me about it,' '' suggests Sean Vergessen, Fine's mentor and host of the weekly seminars Fine attends.

Fine's own analyst, with the unlikely nickname of ``Fumbles,'' is full of helpful advice: ``If you're paranoid, so be paranoid.''

``Fine'' is not going to be for every taste, but in spite of the promiscuous sex, senseless violence, and questionable language that is de rigueur for the modern novel, ``Fine'' ultimately preaches a message of caring for your fellow human beings.

It's in keeping with the spirit of the book to declare that while it may not be great, it certainly is ``Fine.''

Daniel M. Kimmel is a frequent contributor to the Monitor.

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