Romancer Yorke (Song of the Seals, 2003, etc.) takes on manic depression.
When Dr. Elizabeth Shreve, a Marin County shrink, is shaken by the end of her 15-year marriage—following her surgeon husband’s affair with his young head nurse—and by their teenaged daughter’s emotional reactions, she gets a call to commit a former patient who has been found wandering, bloody and wild-eyed, in Golden Gate Park. It’s Jack, a charismatic landscape gardener she’d treated after he separated from his wife. He’s in a manic phase and seems to have been in a fight, though no victim is found. Elizabeth stabilizes him with lithium, but he refuses the dosage after his 72-hour commitment. When she puts him into a therapy group, he walks out. (The group members are among the novel’s well-drawn minor characters.) Jack considers himself clairvoyant, sensing not only the feelings of the plants he works with but the thoughts in people around him. Despite her rationalizations, Elizabeth finds his accurate comments on her own private life disconcerting, and before long she’s breaking the professional rules, having dinner with Jack, discussing her private life, finding herself more and more attracted to his manic high, which he ascribes to falling in love. Being with Jack brings back memories of her bipolar mother, who drove off a cliff with her six-month-old daughter when Elizabeth was seven. Part of Jack’s appeal is his genius at landscaping and his gift for working with botanic oddities (not unlike psychiatric oddities). Yorke’s descriptions of manic depression and its treatment are illuminating, but then she shifts from romance to the courtroom drama of Jack’s trial for the attempted murder of his estranged wife’s new boyfriend (the night he was found in the park). Elizabeth takes the stand to argue for his insanity plea, but this summer romance no longer seems so much glorious as ill-advised.
Lyrical, but flaws in plotting and tone make it come out half-baked.