In Alexander’s (The Fall of Summer, 2014) psychological thriller, a woman undergoing hypnotherapy has trouble distinguishing reality from visions of what seems to be another life.
Jane McBride’s trek into past-life regression therapy seems to be going well. She apparently experiences a “previous lifetime” when under hypnosis, seeing herself as a nun. But therapist Twyla refuses further sessions with Jane, who’s been increasingly unresponsive and harder to pull out of her hypnotic state. Unfortunately, real life for Jane involves philandering, alcoholic husband Jimmy and sexually harassing boss John Briggs at cosmetics company DSRR. She prefers the regression, where she feels love for a man she recurrently sees. Jane tries self-hypnosis, and soon the regressions bleed into her dreams and waking state, leaving her baffled as to what her reality truly is. In spite of the plot, the author doesn’t relay the story as a twisted, illusory narrative. It’s easy to discern when Jane is fully conscious, and her repeated jumps into visions of another place or time are also perfectly clear. It’s really not until the book’s final act that things get much more disorienting for the protagonist—and likely readers as well. Jane’s everydayness is rife with appetizing plot developments: Jimmy blames Jane for his adulterous ways, while the repugnant Briggs proves rather testy when Jane turns down his advances. The hypnotic sequences bolster the story with mystery, especially because Jane is sure, for instance, that she recognizes a farmhouse she keeps seeing. Supporting characters are dynamic, and not all are bad: sympathetic psychiatrist Eric Alford is willing to dabble in hypnosis on Jane’s behalf, and her work assistant/friend Carrie is charmingly cynical. Along the way, Alexander drops hints as to what’s truly going on, though he’s so good at that that a few readers may guess the ending. Nevertheless, the novel-long buildup has a strong, dizzyingly fun payoff. While the story concludes by resolving Jane’s dilemma, the coda opens the book to interpretation (or reinterpretation) and may have some readers flipping back to Page 1.
An arresting novel that grounds its
story first before spinning readers off into a rewarding, dreamlike finale.