In Steltenkamp’s novel, Devin Rowe, a psychiatrist and a self-made man, is on the verge of losing it all, including his sanity.
Devin Rowe is haunted by his past and the childhood traumas he suffered. He’s now a psychiatrist, though, and he’s completely reinvented himself, even going so far as to change his name. But Devin isn’t out to help his patients—only profit from them. First, there’s Margret, a rich Palm Beach socialite who was sent to therapy by her husband so that Rowe could convince her to sign over her inheritance. Then there’s Patricia, a traditional Jewish woman who was pressured by her tyrannical, unloving husband into therapy so she could be conned into signing a separation agreement that guarantees her nothing. Devin gets a hefty payday when he causes the results these nasty husbands want. Steltenkamp creates quite the antihero in Devin: He’s corrupt, narcissistic and generally unlikable—plus, late in the novel, it’s revealed that he has schizoid personality disorder—which makes it hard to keep reading. But Devin has moments of light in the darkness; he struggles with deceiving his patients and might not go through with his plans. His self-created reality eventually begins to crumble while he gets closer to understanding his repressed childhood memories about the abuse he suffered and the deaths of his parents. The novel takes a decidedly disturbing, violent turn halfway through—it was already dark to begin with—when Devin enters into an inappropriate sexual relationship with a patient who suffers from multiple personality disorder. Dreams mix with reality, and Devin is on the verge of completely unraveling. After Patricia becomes a mother figure to Devin, he relives the traumatic events of his childhood that led to his parents’ deaths. It’s clear that Steltenkamp has a thorough understanding of the psychiatric world: Devin plays the part of a psychiatrist with knowledgeable authority, and the novel is filled with psychiatric jargon and ideas that allow Steltenkamp to explore themes such as identity and reality. Yet that psychiatric knowledge also hinders the novel, as Devin sometimes feels more like an imagined case study than an organic character.
A disturbing story that doesn’t shy away from the darkness.