Nine months in marriage counseling with a 30-something California couple.
"This isn't a marriage where someone is beating the other one up. Or where someone is gambling away everything the family owns, or someone can't hold a job because they're drunk or high. As a matter of fact, this is a marriage that, in material terms, has been very successful." Nonetheless, Steve, a boyishly handsome, successful partner at a private equity firm, has been cheating on Gretchen, “a beautiful, smart ice princess" and a tenured English professor. By the time the two arrive in therapy with a counselor named Sandy, Gretchen has already begun her own affair, rented an apartment, taken the kids and moved out. In dialogue-heavy chapters set entirely in Sandy's office, narrated from her therapeutic point of view, their troubles and habitual communication problems are revealed, diagnosed, and discussed at length. "I want you to try an exercise," Sandy tells Steve. "When Gretchen says something, I want you to imagine she means the opposite of what she is saying." While Gretchen perceives Sandy as siding with Steve, who really just wants to be forgiven and get back together, Sandy explains that she sides with the marriage, as personified by an empty green chair that doesn't match anything else in the office. "I keep that chair in the office to remind me that I speak for the marriage," Sandy tells Gretchen. "Sandy, you are sounding delusional," Gretchen replies. "You're going to tell me what my nonexistent marriage is saying from a chair it isn't in?" Will Sandy's methods work? Will Steve and Gretchen give up their extramarital liaisons and reconnect with their love? What is that chair really saying?
Osborn's (The Paper Chase, 2004, etc.) fly-on-the-wall approach offers a certain voyeuristic pleasure but seems primarily designed for didactic effect.