An experienced psychotherapist’s judgment is clouded by a new patient who reminds her of her missing 17-year-old son.
Ruth Hartland has 25 years of service and is now an NHS Trauma Unit Director in London. The responsibility is tremendous, and her colleagues still don’t know about her son Tom’s disappearance more than a year ago. She couldn’t stand the thought of pitying looks and doubts about her ability to cope. But she’s not coping. Not really. Her marriage has fallen apart, and her relationship with Tom’s twin sister, Carolyn, has frayed. So, when she meets new patient Dan Griffin, who bears a striking resemblance to Tom, she finds herself crossing vital boundaries. Dan experienced a brutal sexual assault and has been unable to cope ever since. Ruth has trouble obtaining records from his doctor, leaving critical gaps in her knowledge of his case. Dan is erratic, going from manic to thoughtful in one breath, and he attempts to push Ruth into revealing details about herself. This isn’t unusual, but Ruth’s practice is built on boundaries for a reason. Dan’s very existence forces her to confront the events leading up to Tom’s disappearance and question her abilities as a mother. Ruth obsesses over a website dedicated to the missing and relives her happiest and most harrowing moments with her troubled, sensitive son. Perhaps inevitably, an egregious lapse in judgment leads to an act of violence that changes the course of Ruth’s life. Thomas expertly mines her own extensive experience as a psychologist to paint an intricate portrait of a mother in crisis who blames herself for her son’s pain. Ruth’s interactions with Dan and other patients are realistic and insightful, and Thomas’ focus on society’s expectations of mothers as well as the pressure they put on themselves will resonate. Ruth’s fierce love for Tom gives the narrative its beating heart, and the conclusion strikes a hopeful note and avoids an overly neat resolution.
A suspenseful and emotionally stirring debut.