The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers

Peter Squared Reviews


Kirkus Indie Review

Clinical psychologist Goldberg’s first novel explores the twin concepts of outsider status and insanity, with a mathematical twist.

Peter Branstill is obsessed with cleanliness, order and peep shows. A chronically unambitious accountant in New York City, Peter does his best to combat his chaotic world with meticulous mathematical calculations, keeping track of everything from his clothing combinations to the amount of dirt on a park bench where he sits for lunch. With no friends, an abusive aunt as his only living family, and distorted memories of both childhood bullies and his mentally unstable mother, Peter is a perfect candidate for therapy, but he doesn’t know how to engage during sessions in order to progress. Instead, he “self-medicates” by making continuous calculations, recording his findings in a series of notebooks, and visiting peep shows after work, carefully concealing his social ineptitude. Eventually, he falls into a strange friendship with John, a mental patient who engages him in the park with requests for a smoke, and Peter’s whole world begins to expand by small degrees. Though Peter remains confused by life and incapable of many normal, everyday interactions, he seeks to connect with John in his own way, making special sacrifices in order to maintain their tenuous friendship. The two at first seem to make an odd couple, but in actuality they’re not so different. Though John rails against the world’s unfairness and eagerness to label him as insane, Peter has floated along with his own labels for decades, convinced he is the loser and failure that some truly insane individuals have made him out to be. The story itself is strange, yet characters are as well-developed as they can be through Peter’s skewed lens, and actions make sense when read from this impaired perspective. The author clearly brings years of insights from working with mentally impaired individuals, channeling an irrational yet thoughtful point of view in order to convey marginal experiences with skill and authenticity. While the text can occasionally be tedious, thanks to Peter's obsession with minute details, these calculations are largely presented as a source of humor for the reader to ponder.
By turns comic and tragic, readers must form their own opinions about what truly constitutes sanity in an insane world.


Paul Lappen -- Dead Trees Review
Peter Branstill is in his early 40s and works as an accountant. He has several suits, all of the same color and style, that he alternates wearing to work. At work, he is the sort of person who does only the work expected of him, doesn't socialize with his co-workers, and eats his lunch (the same thing every day) on the same park bench, being sure to sit on a different part of the bench each day. If, for instance, there is a spot of dirt on the bench, Peter uses his own Graduated Dirt Rating Scale (GDRS), which considers things like the size, color, location and texture of the spot. Peter then decides if it is minor dirt, to be ignored, or major contamination, to be avoided at all costs. Peter lives in his own world of mathematical precision, strange rituals and a dread of contamination.

One day, at the park bench, Peter meets John, a lifelong mental patient who is in a local day program. John is a chain smoker who claims to be able to smoke using only one lung at a time. At first, Peter does his best to ignore John, who doesn't seem to know when to stop talking. As time goes on, Peter makes his daily visits from John part of his precise, ordered world.

John tells the story of being on a bus to Nebraska. On the bus, he meets a woman named Anna, who is willing to have sex with him on the bus. Anna is also on psychiatric medication and stuck in a loveless Hasidic Jewish marriage. Each summer, she intentionally goes off her medication and impulsively gets on a bus, not knowing, or caring, where it is going. Her husband has to go pick her up, wherever she is, and bring her back home, where she gets back on her medication, and returns to "normal" in time for Yom Kippur.

While living in Nebraska, John gets into the local day program and starts to fit in. As a consumer of pornography (so is Peter), John searches for the local "source." He finds one video store, where everything is kept behind the front desk and must be requested by name. Despite this, the town considers forming a commission to stamp out pornography. John starts making pro-pornography noises and gets thrown out of town.

Written by a clinical psychologist, this is a fascinating, and quite eye-opening, look at mental illness from the "inside". It also says a lot about the "helping professions". It is very much worth reading.








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