Therapist, heal thyself.
Tiktin’s (A Perception of Murder, 2016, etc.) tale of romantic strife and racial tension is a hard little sourball of social comedy. An incisive and unsparing examination of self-interest complicated by social expectations, the novel features a cast of painfully relatable—if almost entirely unsympathetic—characters enslaved to their baser natures while struggling futilely to navigate the neuroses those drives inevitably create. Jonathan Meltzer is the titular therapist, a callow counselor-in-training suffering from a serious case of Portnoy’s Complaint: passive, wracked by fears of sexual inadequacy, and fatally constricted by his Jewish upbringing. His clients are Thaddeus, a simmering cauldron of resentment and ambition, and Beverly, a stunning Jamaican princess, venal and calculating, nursing a catastrophic credit card addiction. Jonathan lusts for Beverly, Beverly appraises Jonathan as a no-limit American Express card–carrying upgrade from her current husband, and Thaddeus, perhaps the sharpest and most perceptive of the three, sees an opportunity in the possibility of a fat malpractice suit should Jonathan and Beverly succumb to temptation. Tiktin employs this farcical premise to dig into deeply uncomfortable issues of racial identity (Thaddeus and Beverly are black, Jonathan is white), social status, personal ethics and morality, and sexual insecurity, deftly alternating points of view and imbuing each of his players with rich inner lives and distinctive voices. Tiktin is also a playwright with a gift for revealing character through dialogue, and his supporting characters—Jonathan’s abrasive girlfriend, Arlene, his oversharing New Age therapist, Timothy, and Thaddeus’ conflicted work-crush, Maureen—emerge as vividly as the main cast, providing yet another layer of illuminating perspective on the principal action. Tiktin’s work here invites comparison to Roth, Updike, and Wolfe—and, though slight in comparison to those titans’ masterpieces, his latest novel acquits itself well in the tradition.
Sharp, satiric, and uncomfortably insightful, Tiktin’s novel amuses and abrades in equal measure.