In psychoanalyst Alexander’s debut novel, an accomplished young woman struggles to overcome her troubled past.
Kathleen Moore arrives at UCLA with more than her fair share of baggage. Often solitary, she’s evasive when it comes to her childhood, tumultuous years that were dominated by foster care. She also grapples with uncertainties regarding her future and her sexual identity. Still, she manages to make a few friends, including sympathetic Gary and Gayle, a therapist who evolves into a surrogate mother. The worst moments in Kathleen’s life are cushioned by such friends, who respond to her difficulties with extraordinary acts of kindness. Financial constraints and a compulsion to be of service lead Kathleen to pursue a medical career in the Army, which, in the era of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” requires her to put her love life on indefinite hold. An unanticipated injury in Iraq is the catalyst for her pursuit of a more authentic life in small-town California, particularly after she meets fiery yet nurturing Claire Hollander, who pushes Kathleen to prioritize her own happiness for the first time in her life. As with many first novels, Alexander’s debut is an ambitious project that seeks to cover considerable ground. The dense story spans multiple decades, including forays into the past. Still, though years may pass in a page, Alexander avoids abrupt transitions. The host of characters may seem excessive, but they’re all skillfully developed; collectively they inculcate the sense that generosity is not so rare a virtue as the hopeless among us might imagine. Rich, tactile prose brings to life settings as diverse as idyllic Canfield, Calif., and war-torn Iraq, while introspection and allusion keep the novel psychologically taut—a considerable feat considering the broad array of Kathleen’s anxieties.
Passion balanced by intelligence runs through this beautiful, surprising novel about the restorative power of love.