A depressed old lady kills herself. Is her shrink to blame?
That’s the crux of this second novel, the slice-of-life successor to High Gate Health and Beauty, 2000 (not reviewed). The setting is blue-collar Jersey City, and the shrink is 40-year-old Nicky Finucche (rhymes with pooch). Nicky is a mess, and not just because he suffers from Irritable Bowel Syndrome. A nebbishy laughing-stock in school, he somehow finagled a degree in Counseling Psychology from a local college and turned his parents’ old butcher shop into a Mental Wellness Center. Because he’s “lazy as a slug,” he keeps minimal patient records. His diagnoses range from “asshole” to “a real nut.” Small wonder that he’s down to two patients: his buddy Mo and old Mrs. Hellman. Nicky has zero self-knowledge; otherwise, he’d have hung on to his former patient Lilly Giuliette: Deep down, he loves the upbeat meter maid, and she might have saved him from himself. As for Mrs. Hellman, her depression has been caused by a rotten husband (dead) and rotten son (Terry, married to Nicky’s sister Connie). Now, her depression is mutating into full-blown paranoia. Nicky’s impromptu therapy (worry balls, scented candles) doesn’t work, and Mrs. Hellman overdoses on sleeping pills. Terry, an angry, unemployed lowlife, has visions of a Wrongful Death suit, calling Nicky a charlatan, and his preening lawyer Arthur plays along. They’re right of course. Nicky is a quack. But in their dog-eat-dog world, Nicky has a saving grace they lack: simple kindness. Meanwhile, Connie, another depressed character, has quit her teaching job without telling Terry, who scares her to death. Under pressure from Terry and Arthur, Nicky regresses, coloring his wall-charts and having a good cry. But Connie, suddenly brave and resourceful, will save the day.
Colicchio passes up opportunities for comic or romantic relief, preferring to let his sad sacks wallow in their gloom. A disappointment.