DUTY TO WARN by Sara Kersting


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Two psychologists wrestle with the ghosts in a troubled patient's life and their own.

Retired mental health worker Kersting's debut novel is the taut story of a crisis in the lives of two psychologists when one suspects his patient may have returned to his hometown to seek revenge for childhood abuse. After Robert Percy departs for rural Michigan, his counselor David Malden's worry that the Buffalo manufacturing worker may be bent on inflicting violence on someone from his past causes Malden to believe he may have a duty to warn potential victims under New York law. With little information about Percy's precise whereabouts, and ignoring the caution of his colleague and friend Sonja Nielsen, Malden embarks for Michigan to intervene. The novel expertly shifts perspective among these three characters, maintaining a high level of tension surrounding Percy's intentions and whether Malden will be able to reach him in time to prevent the tragedy he fears. Focusing tightly on the human dimension of her story, Kersting avoids the twin curses of reliance on professional jargon or the need to establish her credibility by inundating the reader with unnecessary information, creating considerable narrative momentum without sacrificing telling detail that adds pathos to the account of Percy's childhood in a series of foster homes. Kersting also artfully inserts the backstories of Malden and Nielsen, in his case a crumbling marriage as a result of his recent casual affair and a college-age daughter whose long-standing depression has flared, and in hers, a brother's long-ago suicide. Through this, she suggests that skilled counselors may find the need to resolve their own problems before they can address the ones their patients present. As Nielsen sees it, this is a story of "how a heart, if it wanted to badly enough, began to heal itself," but it's every bit as much a well-informed and thoughtful glimpse of that same heart's sometimes-impenetrable mysteries.

A provocative exploration of the ethics of mental health counseling.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-946724-10-6
Page count: 184pp
Publisher: Acre
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2018


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