In Crowell’s (Etched on Me, 2014, etc.) novel, two long-distance friends admit their love for each other without fully considering the psychological consequences.
Washington, D.C., resident Gloria Burgess has survived her first year of widowhood. On the anniversary of her husband Bill’s death from leukemia, she sends her 8-year-old son, Curran, away to a sleepover, and the apartment is all hers to have a good cry. Her overwhelming stress is apparent when her best friend, Jascha Kremsky, calls from England: “There’s a stranger in the mirror,” she tells him. “She looks like me, and she moves when I move, but she’s not me.” Fearing that Gloria will harm herself, Jascha convinces her to go to the emergency room, ending the call with a whispered “I love you.” She submits to a psychiatric hold for the weekend, and the doctor tells her that she’ll need extensive therapy to process her loss. But her memory of Jascha’s whispered declaration makes her desperately need to see him. He immediately flies in from Europe, and they realize that they both desire to have more than a mere friendship. But Jascha is still suffering from severe PTSD due to his family’s death in a car crash five years before. The fact of their mutual tragedies, in fact, had helped him and Gloria to cement their friendship. But Jascha quickly scraps his decision to stay in the United States in order to return to England for his own extensive therapy; for their love to truly flourish, they’ll both need to work through their grief. Crowell’s fiction draws heavily on themes of mental illness and the concomitant social stigma attached to its diagnosis; her main characters don’t merely experience passing depressions but have chronic conditions that require professional intervention. Indeed, the novel’s focus on mental health is one of its strengths, as it’s a refreshing and underrepresented subject in fiction. However, the book offers chapter after chapter depicting the lengthy process of therapeutic desensitization exercises, which results in an overly long novel. Crowell has a gift for characterization, and Curran and other supporting characters do emerge as fully developed people, but one will wish that more pages were devoted to them instead of to details of therapy sessions.
An offbeat but overlong story of a romantic relationship.