A young man struggling with his gender identity and a middle-aged psychologist connect with one another in Basch’s (The Passion of Reverend Nash, 2003, etc.) complex and thoughtful new novel.
Malcolm Dowd is a listener, receiving updates on the lives of his patients and gleaning information where he can about his two daughters. When he feels the desire to offer up an anecdote or bit of personal information, he reminds himself “that he got paid as much for what he didn’t say as what he did, more maybe.” After the tragic death of his wife, he's been plunged into single fatherhood, often withholding information that he believes his daughters are not ready to hear or that he's too frightened to share. Noah, a young patient of Malcolm’s, confesses that he relates more to his feminine side, hiding makeup, wigs and women’s clothing deep in his closet. The novel alternates between the perspectives of Malcolm and Noah, linking them to one another in deep and sometimes too-coincidental ways that hinge on chance meetings and characters who are overly secretive. While Noah longs to define himself on his own terms, he's also desperate for a father figure, which he tries to find in Malcolm. The feeling is not unrequited, with Malcolm commenting on his own paternal instincts toward this boy he barely knows. Malcolm slowly begins to realize that approaching the world as a psychologist is not enough for his family when he's forced to reveal more about the circumstances surrounding his wife’s death to his daughters.
While Malcolm’s trajectory feels complete, Noah’s seems to be an afterthought in a novel that isn't really about him.