Genre(s): Literary Science Fiction
Publisher: Fairlight Moderns
Release date: August 1st, 2019
/r/Fantasy Bingo Squares: Slice of Life (HM), Novella (HM)
“I sit perfectly still and try to visualize the internal mechanics of my own body. To disassemble my molecular structure. To reduce my body to its purest form. To release a lifetime of guilt and regret. Until I am left with only the goodness in me.
But I find the person who remains unrecognizable.”
The Therapist by Nial Giacomelli was more than a bit of a let-down. I’d been hoping for a thoughtful character-driven plague survival story, but unfortunately mostly ended up with a middle-aged white man whining about how his wife was depressed and about how he thinks the (somewhat mysterious) therapist they’re visiting isn’t worth the money.
The narrator and his wife, Simone, recently lost their son in an accident at the beach. It’s very tragic, and I really do feel for them. Unfortunately, I can’t help but feel that the unnamed narrator exemplifies more than a few stereotypical toxic white-guy traits. While he does at least take a moment to acknowledge his privilege in one paragraph, this hardly absolves him from responsibility to do better.
“I remember thinking about how fortunate I had been to have been born a man. To be able to live as the breadwinner not by discussion or election, but by assumption. I knew that I would never have been able to bear staying home in the way that she had. And though I had always insisted that Simone was free to decide whether she returned to work or not, I would have been lying if I’d said that her decision hadn’t benefited me greatly. That by sheer grace of my gender I had avoided that messy discussion, that sad admittance that being a father alone would never have been enough to satisfy me completely.”
Shockingly, it also wasn’t nearly enough to satisfy his wife, either. In other portions, he actively recognizes that his wife is unhappy and would like to return to work – but feels like she can’t. In such a situation, the right thing to do as a partner who cares about the emotional and mental wellbeing of your spouse is not to tell her “Oh, well you always have the OPTION, honey!”, which causes feelings of guilt for her between both A) knowing how much you benefit from it and B) the pressure women have to be the “perfect” mothers who stay at home with their children. The right thing is to encourage her to return to work for her own health and recognize that placing the baby into daycare isn’t a bad thing. Of course, he does neither of these things. Instead, he pats himself on the back for giving her the so-called freedom to “choose” as if she truly has a free choice.
“Do you want to go back to work?” I asked.
She was silent for a long time. We both sat and watched the question turn stale in the air between us. I realised then that the answer was yes. That she missed work terribly, but was too ashamed to admit it. Financially we could survive on my salary, which meant, at least in her mind, that a return to work would equate to failure.”
He has some odd and rather cringe-worthy scenes wherein he fantasizes about cheating on his wife with a myriad of different women. The metaphor here was meant to symbolize his desire for intimacy, which he feels is lacking with his wife as she battles depression. When he and his wife visit the neighbor family, he first feels jealous as the husband helps the narrator’s wife remove her coat (oh no he touched her shoulders!!!!). He then proceeds to internally daydream about his wife sleeping with the neighbor wife. This whole sequence felt extremely gratuitous. Near the middle, he considers running away to the coast away from his wife, where he’ll fuck “loose women” – with a description of said sex boiling down to him quite frankly raping them. Naturally, this is not portrayed as rape. Towards the end, he fantasizes about a crowd of women who all want to have sex with him swarming him.
“I spend my days betting on horses and when either my luck runs out or the sun runs off I go in search of loose women. I fuck them behind bars and on the hoods of cars. I take them from behind, their hair wrapped tightly in my clenched fist. And when they gasp and then beg for me to slow down I thunder on, as if I am trying to rip them apart. I stop only when, at last, I am sated.
But the fantasy falls apart almost as quickly as it materializes. The logistics are laughable. How would I rent a convertible without providing some form of identification? Who were these loose women, and where was this disposable income coming from?”
Please take a second to note that he doesn’t mention the logistics of raping women who beg him to stop, only wondering where he might find them.
The only science fiction element of this book is… not particularly scifi, to be frank. The backdrop of the story involves a mysterious plague sweeping the nation which causes people to first sicken and then disappear into the ether. It’s meant to mirror the way the narrator feels as though he’s losing his connection to the world as well as the way those we love can simply gradually dissolve away from our lives. It was OK, I guess, but not particularly interesting beyond the symbolism. It didn’t really add to the plot. It did allow for the narrator to have a deep conversation with a dying grandmother, though, which further cemented in my mind the way he desires women to take care of him and mother even even with their last breath, however!
One of his wife’s conditions for staying together after the death of their son was to visit a therapist together, and quite frankly, if any of this guy’s issues with women and his own worldview had been addressed by the therapy, this might have been a pretty good little novella about the issues facing men in our society and how they might redeem themselves to become better people. Unfortunately, the therapist was primarily just a symbolic figure and the narrator spends a good amount of time complaining about her, believing her to be overpaid because she has a nice house and drinks loose leaf tea (I kid you not).
Quite frankly, my biggest takeaways from this book were: wow, boy howdy does this guy need to realize that 1) women don’t exist to help you process your emotions 2) women don’t exist to mother you 3) women have a right to their own lives, which you should encourage, outside of raising your spawn 4) sex is not the only form of intimacy and 5) sorry your kid died but that doesn’t mean you get to be an asshole to your wife who you all but forced to be the primary caregiver by dint of not supporting her as a person.
2 stars because at least the writing style wasn’t terrible.
SPOILERS FOR THE ENDING BELOW
Just to add insult to injury, the end of the book used that tired old cliche “it was all a dream!” ending. Turns out his wife committed suicide and he’s been hallucinating her this whole time? Or such is implied. There’s literally zero payoff for any of the bullshit I sat through for the first 90% of the novella. Ah, well, can’t win ’em all.
All I can say is this: I am so, so, glad to be getting back to reading The Dragon Republic by R. F. Kuang which has an actually good plot and actually good characters. Thank whatever gods may be for people who write fantasy and OWN that they’re writing fantasy.
Recommended for fans of:
- …Not recommended.
Have you read this book? What did you think? Do you have any questions about it?
Drop me a line in the comments below!