In Widdicks’ debut psychological thriller, a sleep-deprived therapist becomes obsessed with a curious woman who seems to have restored her ability to dream.
Dr. Cressida Dunhill hasn’t dreamed since she had a car accident a decade earlier. She has no memories of the incident, but she survived it and someone named Max didn’t. One day, Viola “Vee” Marquis walks into Cressida’s office in Silverside, Oregon, at a psychiatric facility known locally as “The Mermaid Asylum.” Although Vee claims that she’s there because she’s upset that her boyfriend, Rex, is cheating on her, she seems indifferent about the visit. Cressida is unsettled and mesmerized by the woman as she casually strolls around the office. The doctor has a dream soon afterward in which she recalls some of the accident, and she associates this apparent breakthrough with Vee. The therapist wants to continue seeing her, even if that means pursuing a relationship outside the office. One potential obstacle is Rex, who Cressida believes is responsible for the bruises that she sees on Vee’s body. Protecting Vee from Rex may be the only way that Cressida can overcome her troubled, sometimes-sleepless nights. Before long, however, her concern for her patient turns into a fixation—one that could be dangerous for everybody involved. Widdicks’ deceptively simple tale has very few characters and a plot that burns slowly, gradually offering up its revelations about who Max is and particulars of the accident. There are a couple of plot twists along the way, but the novel’s most unpredictable element is the protagonist herself; she begins as a therapist who unquestionably cares about her patients, but surprising details about her past will cause readers to see her in a new light. The author’s prose is acute and self-assured, with pithy descriptions shaded with black humor: “Her hair was the topic of several discussions that day, including one twenty-minute negotiation with a paranoid patient who refused to even enter the room.”
A dark, delightfully bizarre story that dives deep into the psyches of unbalanced characters.