The Sullivanians: Sex, Psychotherapy, and the Wild Life of an American Commune

Highbridge Audio Jun. 2023. 14:48 hrs. ISBN 9781696612630. $24.99. HIST
Stille (Excellent Cadavers) presents an exhaustive history of the founders, participants, and ideological tenets of the Sullivanians, an experimental, therapy-based community located in New York City’s Upper West Side from the late 1950s to the early 1990s. With measure and restraint, narrator Jamie Renell describes how the Sullivanian community attracted members of the art and music scene who hoped for creative transformation and development. Others appreciated the affordable dormitory-style housing, mental health support, therapists willing to pen draft deferment letters, and a built-in social group. Though no-strings-attached sex was a mainstay, there was an additional emphasis on the values of platonic intimacy. Adherents of the Sullivanian philosophy were promised a reprieve from stuffy Freudian analysis and freedom from the confines of the nuclear family, sexual repression, and monogamy. While some achieved these goals, many were exposed to inebriated analysts, sexual coercion, and forced isolation from their families and communities. Renell’s narration is solid and clear, allowing listeners to better navigate this complex and layered account.
VERDICT While the narrative trajectory will be familiar territory for those who’ve read with cult-centered nonfiction, Stille’s detours into pop-culture scandals and New York City history set this title apart.
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