This is contemporary fiction. Really GOOD contemporary fiction. There’s a paranormal element but it really just creates an unusual situation; it’s not really something that gets explored, goes to world-building, or has larger scale implications.
In 2018, I created a set of memes with the theme, #notyouDerek. “Derek” was just a name basically drawn from a hat, and I used it to troll motivational memes. When people asked who was Derek and why did I hate him, I’d just mysteriously respond, “Derek knows who he is,” and “Derek knows what he did.”
It’s a complete coincidence, but it makes this review actually delicious.
The main POV character is Derek. He’s both a snooty psychiatrist fallen from high station to neighborhood drug dealer and skeezy perv. As long as his misogyny lives in his own head, he doesn’t see any particular problem in objectifying women. In psychotherapy, he goes through the motions, saying the right things at the right times, but in his head imagining his patients naked and in compromising positions.
At the same time, his patients are neighborhood women doctor shopping for Xanax.
Everything changes when a new patient arrives who can read his mind. She also seeks oblivion, just a prescription for something to dull down sudden-onset telepathy. She’s so overwhelmed by the thoughts and feelings of others, she just wants relief.
Trouble is, she can see inside his dirty mind. Derek is a walking, talking #MeToo moment.
I’m a psychologist, and my training is psychotherapy. I think Kate did a great job with her psychiatrist, writing from his point of view. I don’t know how, but she did. Nothing in her bio suggests insider status here but she writes like an insider.
It’s unusual for a psychiatrist to actually engage in therapeutic endeavors these days. Med school is expensive and so is malpractice insurance; and there’s so much money in med management that, well, why bother earning a hundred dollars an hour to sit with distressed people?
This particular psychiatrist, though, is inconvenienced. He did a bad thing: He had sex with a patient. In Colorado, that’s a prison-time sort of offense but, because of privilege, he avoids the big penalty and just gets stuck doing therapy out of his home office like a plebian.
“Transference” is a Freudian, psychoanalysis sort of term and doesn’t come up explicitly in the story. It means when the patient responds to the therapist as though the therapist were someone else they have a relationship with. Freud would always present himself as an ambiguous stimulus, sitting outside the view of the patient and (at least on paper) not interacting much, so that the patient could project onto him and create transference.
Here, the doctor (Derek) is anything but ambiguous. He’s a repulsive toad. The relationship isn’t any more complicated than that.
His patient, though, Janet, turns out to be nearly as repulsive. She’s judgmental, resorts almost instantly to blackmail, and degrades poor Derek almost every chance she gets. When she can’t get her way, she stalks him (as one of Carl Roger’s patients famously did, actually) demanding an apology from him.
Here we get to issues of redemption, a theme cropping up in a lot of indi-lit in 2018. Can a repulsive man like Derek be rehabilitated? Can we have empathy for him, or at least compassion?
Think of all the men who went away under pressure from #metoo and #timesup. I’m thinking especially of Louis C.K.. Some of his comedy is really soulful and brilliant, but the man is undeniably a complete toad. Can we try to understand why he is as he is? Should we care? Is he allowed to apologize and re-enter the public scene? Am I allowed to go on YouTube and laugh at the stand-up bit where his daughter keeps asking “why?” in an infinitely regressive sequence?
All rhetorical, of course. Please don’t troll me with your hypotheticals, OK?
How could we rehab someone with habitually misogynistic thoughts? Jonuska throws him together with a telepath who he genuinely wants to help. He quickly learns to redirect his own unconscious process with intentional meditations. The meditations help Janet calm down and he quickly becomes her safe haven.
Let’s switch gears to Dexter real fast. Dexter is one of my favorite literary characters, and Jeff Lindsey is a pretty neat cat, too. Jeff is another author who understands psychology without being a psychologist. Dexter is always looking for someone to whom he can reveal his true self. What we’re afraid of as humans is that people will, if they get a glimpse under our performed presentations of self, believe we are monsters. Dexter is a literal monster, and so his fear is well-founded. Everyone who learns either tries to kill him, arrest him or use him.
Now Derek is pretty gross. He isn’t a monster, but he’s hardly sympathetic. His patient doesn’t accept him; she tries to use him, and, perhaps because he’s disgusting, has no problem mistreating him.
But she does see him. And she does, in her way, accept him. She accepts his function while rejecting his behavior. In this case, because his thoughts are visible, his thoughts qualify as behavior.
In the end, without really trying to, Derek changes his attitudes towards women. He examines his childhood traumas (very Freudian), manages his thoughts, and comes through a crucible changed. We have some explicit insight at work here (have a look at my review called “what is insight”) and some more noetic change.
We have a national crisis on our hands. When the current president leaves office, that crisis won’t be over. In some ways, it will be just beginning. I just finished writing a novel called Waking the Dead, about what happens when the people around you become monstrous. When awakened with a serum, can they be accepted back into humanity? I’m not the first to finish such a story. We’re wondering this.
The current POTUS is completely toxic. People voted for him and continue to support him despite explicitly racist and sexist comments and homophobic, transphobic policies. He’s mobilized hate for Muslims, immigrants and refugees, Mexicans, the queer community, and POC generally.
When he’s gone, what are we to do with the people who continue to rationalize supporting him?
Can we understand them? Have empathy or just plain compassion? Should we try?
And, finding them disgusting, are we likely to help?