In this novel, a Texas psychologist helps individuals and families in crisis while an IRS audit looms and her own 20-year marriage falters.
Dr. Addy Conrad is a Fort Worth marriage and family therapist in practice for 10 years. She sees patients in her second-floor, tree-surrounded office with the aid of Paula, her office manager, and Dumplin’, her Shih Tzu therapy dog. Her patients include Michael, a handsome sex addict whose arrogance disguises his underlying pain, and the Barnetts, a stressed, dysfunctional family dealing with what turns out to be the mother’s dissociative identity disorder. For her own support, Conrad turns to Dixie, her warm, motherly hairstylist; Dr. Endicott, her graduate school supervisor; and Sebastian Courtney (called Seb), her fashion-challenged friend, therapist colleague, and “intellectual idol.” Addy has three children with her husband, Brad, but he tells her he wants a divorce, saying they’ve grown apart. As if that weren’t enough, a hostile IRS agent examines the Conrad finances with a fine-toothed comb, and a man appears to be watching Addy, perhaps stalking her. It all demands much more than just listening in a chair. “Psychotherapy is a naked event,” says Addy. “The client is stripped, but so is the therapist.” Foster (What Women Want....Really!, 2015, etc.), a psychologist in private practice, opens up the therapist’s vulnerability, an intriguing focus. The author expertly shows the tightrope Conrad must walk to prevent her own reactions from interfering with providing proper care. Michael, for example, awakens sexual attraction, dislike, and fear. Addy must be on her guard and remember that he’s a smooth talker, while still giving him the benefit of the doubt. It’s unfortunate, though, that Foster makes dissociative identity disorder—that Hollywood favorite—a centerpiece. Stirring emotion through this dramatic cliché (and the horrific abuse associated with it) is a little misguided, and fails to effectively represent the usual conditions that bring people into therapy, such as depression, anxiety, and addiction. Addy’s nuanced understanding and compassion provide balance, thankfully.
An absorbing, behind-the-scenes look at the mind and work of a therapist.