This is one of those books that I decided I needed to let a few weeks go by before I sit down to write the review. I thought time would help me clarify my thoughts and feelings about this book. I don’t feel I am any closer to grasping a definitive answer but maybe by the end of the review, it will make more sense.
The story is told in two separate time periods. Dr. Jonas Speller is a psychotherapist. In the earlier period of the story, he is finishing up his training, undergoing psychotherapy himself as part of the processes required to enter the profession while also working as a therapist at a university.
Victoria Schone is a student who undergoes therapy with Dr. Speller during this earlier period. She is overcome by feelings of mania, depression, suicidal thoughts and feelings and a desperate need to regain control of her racing thoughts and feelings.
As the story opens however, we meet the two leads at a later time in their lives. Dr. Speller is an established and well respected psychotherapist who has been part of the changing face of the mental health field. Although his training and the therapy he undertook was to lay on the couch and speak to a stream of conscious thought without much feedback from his therapist, he prefers to have more of a dialogue with his patients which includes divulging at least some personal details about himself.
Victoria Schone-Braun, is now a married mother of two and a successful attorney. She and her husband run a law firm that they actually live above. They are the parents of two teenagers. The oldest is a daughter that is going through some kind of mental health issue of her own and the youngest is their son who is seemingly perfect in his mother’s eyes and who is frustrated by the behavior of his sister.
The story goes back and forth in a very clear way. The earlier dates tend to focus on the therapy sessions and unfold the issues and problems faced by Victoria as well as the development of Jonas as a therapist and a person. We get to see who and how Jonas met and married his wife but we do not get a very full story about the adoption of his two children.
On the other hand, we do not get to know much about the background of how Victoria met and married her husband which is odd because throughout the part set in the more current era, problems in the marriage are constantly alluded to but we have no background on the marriage itself. We are however, given more background on her role as a mother to both her son and daughter.
Without giving away any more of the story, a crisis occurs in Victoria’s life which prompts her to re-establish contact with Dr. Speller seeking both advice and a referral. The contact prompts Jonas to drop everything in order to help Victoria. He acknowledges that there is a special connection between the two – a connection that Victoria also feels.
The book is an interesting look at the doctor/patient relationship in therapy as well as the therapeutic process itself. There are times that ideas emerge that are great jumping off points for discussions around mental health, the impact of parents on our development, how our experiences in youth shape us as adults and questions around what constitutes ethical and unethical behavior.
But, there are enough times that the book takes off on flights of fancy and incredible threads that have you shaking your head as a reader and wondering why this author’s editor didn’t take the bull by the horns and tell the author that he was going in a direction that really pressed the boundaries of reality and taste. There were also threads that I wish the author had pursued more thoroughly such as Victoria’s marriage and Jonas’ relationship with his adoptive children. Those were touched upon so superficially and yet, they felt like they were important to the story.
I give the book a solid three stars. I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it either. I was engrossed but I could put it down and walk away for a few days while I read other things in between. It is a book pregnant with possibility but a story not fully realized.