Journalist, Humorist, Novelist, and Book & Pitch Doctor


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Hysterical has been named a 2015 “Over the Rainbow” book by the American Library Association.

“Journalist Coffey, seen in Scientific American and Psychology Today, presents an avidly researched, shrewd, and unnerving first novel that purports to be the lost autobiography of Anna Freud. . . Coffey offers some truly shocking disclosures about the Freud family in this complexly entertaining, sexually dramatic, acidly funny novel of genius and absurdity, insight and delusion, independence and loyalty. Illustrated with archival photographs and backed by a substantial bibliography, this is an electrifying, imaginative portrait of an overlooked historical figure of great significance: fascinating, courageous, and steadfast Anna Freud.”


“Though fiction, HYSTERICAL is structured as an autobiography, with Anna’s voice assuming the narration. It’s an interesting trick, and one Coffey pulls off quite well—she captures Anna’s formality, smart but plain spoken, straightforward to the point of creating emotional distance, and occasionally so hyper-aware and unaware in the same moment that it grates. . . . Like a therapy session, HYSTERICAL tunnels very deeply into Anna’s childhood experiences—thoughts, events, dreams, fantasies—and like a therapy session, the facets of what are revealed are at times disturbing and uncomfortable. Add to all that the inherent struggle between Sigmund and Anna, which twists and deepens as they both age, especially as Anna comes into her sexuality, and you’ve got a plot so rife with tension it’ll make you squirm. . . . HYSTERICAL also contains some incredibly riveting passages about various analysands of Freud’s—people whose deviant natures stuck with Anna, probably because she sympathized in some way with them—and some funny parts, jokes and other bits that provoke a laugh even while you feel slightly (or profoundly) disturbed. And while there is a strong emphasis on Anna’s childhood and coming of age, Coffey leads the reader through Anna’s young adulthood, her decision to become a teacher and from there an analyst and advocate for children, her first love, her ‘coming out,’ and her life with Dorothy Burlingham. Those with an interest in Freud, the history of psychology or psychoanalysis, and/or the history of gayness as ‘illness’ will find this book a necessary and enjoyable addition to the literature. HYSTERICAL approaches its subject with remarkable, even agile, tenderness and understanding—Coffey gives Anna a voice, one that history has thus far not allowed her.”

            —LAMBDA Literary

“Coffey’s tale uses Jewish jokes and other humor to humanize the family dynamic, and delicately delineate the tension between Anna’s devotion to her father and her enduring attachment to Dorothy Burlingham, an heir to the Tiffany fortune. Coffey also touches on the impropriety of the doctor’s treating his own daughter and the discomfort she must have experienced as a result—though in this fictional version, Anna confesses: “Of course in my account to Papa, I elaborated and lied. Personally, I think that honesty in psychoanalysis is over-rated.” [Ha!]

            —O, The Oprah Magazine

“As funny and occasionally frightening as the title hints.”

            —Ms. Magazine Blog

“Coffey, a Vermont Public Radio commentator and contributor to magazines such as Scientific American, grounds her tale in research, as attested in three pages of bibliography. Hysterical is an engaging story of Anna’s struggle to become herself despite the machinations of her controlling father, complete with a convincing recreation of the Freud household and its tensions. Coffey suggests that, despite Sigmund Freud’s fame and the economic comforts he gave his offspring, this family went through hell. Much of it was the patriarch’s doing… I don’t know whether Hysterical will make readers more likely to sign up for psychoanalysis or to run away. In either case, upon finishing this book, expect to have a personal reaction to the words with which Freud customarily closed a session: ‘We have tunneled deeply today.’”

            —Seven Days

“This book is an extraordinary walk inside the psyche of the Freud family…. Coffey, an exacting and compelling science writer, portrays Anna Freud with the measured freedom and literary accuracy found in the best, most extensively researched historical fiction. Such fiction has the potential to tell greater truths, as [this novel] does. Read this for the history – and to learn from history.”

   —Barbara Fischkin, journalist (Newsday, New York Times, New Yorker, Boston Globe) and author (Confidential Sources).

“Completely absorbing and entirely believable, HYSTERICAL is both a lovely work and a treasure. This is the book we all wish Anna Freud had had the courage to write.”       

            —Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, author The Assault on Truth: Freud’s Suppression of the Seduction Theory and former Projects Director of The Freud Archives

[A] wonderfully insightful fictional glimpse into the Freud family dynamic and, most notably, its impact on Sigmund’s theories about lesbianism. How did Freud père receive the announcement that the daughter to whom he was closest—his right-hand girl and protégé—loved women? How did he deal with her long domestic partnership with another woman? Coffey’s presentation of what may have happened between Sigmund and Anna is nuanced, intelligent, and wonderfully persuasive.”

            —Lillian Faderman, author of Naked in the Promised Land: A Memoir

“…[A]bsolutely fascinating and interesting. Reading it brought up a lot of tears because of the memories it evoked about the people and the time. I was so happy to have Freud’s relationship with his daughter revealed.”

            —Sophie Templer, 95-year-old daughter of controversial Freudian psychoanalyst Otto Gross

“Rebecca Coffey’s imagination knows no bounds. She makes you believe this is exactly the way it all happened. HYSTERICAL is sad, funny, painful, strange, outrageous, and disturbing. If we can’t have Anna’s diaries, this is the next best thing.”

            —Ellen Bass, author of The Courage to Heal

“Moving, irreverent, often very funny, and a remarkable tour de force, HYSTERICAL lets us eavesdrop at the keyhole of the Freud family. And, oh, what we learn!”

            —Leonard Foglia, Broadway director of Thurgood, Wait Until Dark, and Master Class

To BuySample | Advance Praise | Bibliography
Readers Guide for Book Clubs | Truth vs. Fiction “Cheat Sheet” | Backgrounder |
Speaking EngagementsTo Buy