In Daniels’ (The Situation, 2014, etc.) latest novel, a psychotherapist takes a break from his usual existence when he gets tired of listening to other people’s problems, but he finds it’s not so easy to leave the couch behind.
Daniel Pierce’s personal life has been going downhill since his wife, Lisa, died six months earlier. His professional therapy work mainly deals with sex addicts “because they have no where [sic] else to go—nowhere to get proper treatment, anyway.” One evening, when he’s burnt out and bored, he meets a beautiful ex-prostitute named Lira, who solicits his help in finding one of his patients, Derek Metcalf, who’s been accused of molesting his own son. Pierce demurs, citing therapist/patient confidentiality, but he’s drawn to Lira and happy to use her to disrupt “the diffuse fabric of my life.” He cancels appointments, abandons his apartment, and lets Lira (who’s worried by his drinking) pull strings to get him into a sober-living residence. In the kind of coincidence that doesn’t happen outside novels, Pierce’s roommate turns out to be Derek Metcalf himself. They strike up an informal, therapeutic relationship until Metcalf disappears again and Pierce receives a subpoena to testify against him. Meanwhile, a psychologist friend also wants Pierce’s help to fight a bill that aims to change the required reporting guidelines for mental health professionals treating sex offenders—one based on a controversial real-life California law. Daniels sheds light on an important issue in this novel: how should society treat sex offenders, especially those whose crimes lie in thought and not in action? However, although the book refers more than once to Pierce’s likability and listening skills, many readers may find that his first-person narration contradicts those traits. Instead, the character comes across as pompous and judgmental, with contrarian stances on feminist issues. For instance, after “expounding upon all the disadvantages men feel in the realm of sex” to Lira, Pierce claims that “sex for men equaled chocolate for women—vices resentfully spurned, but seized in times of rebellion.”
This novel addresses an engaging topic, but its unlikable narrator and tendentious prose drag it down.