This is a simple novel, elegantly written, about the human condition, moral dilemmas and the balancing of the choices in our lives. The main character is the psychologist - who remains unnamed throughout - an erudite, thoughtful man navigating the difficult decisions he has made while teaching a college class and seeing private patients at his office. The class is filled with a variety of students, each of whom forms a critical part of the narrative. Of his patients, one is particularly important in the context of the story: an exotic dancer who has been unable to perform on stage since the onset of disabling anxiety. In chapters that alternate between the psychologist’s life relationship and the dilemma it creates, his class and the treatment of the dancer, the story develops.
Clearly based in the therapeutic process, the novel avoids being too literal by the very humanity the protagonist brings to his every endeavor. There is a marked calmness about this character, even at his most pedagogic, that is essentially soothing. Though he suffers for a painful decision, he embraces both the joy and pain of the situation, taking responsibility for his part, his self-exploration instinctive. This is a character on the downside of his life, his possibilities perhaps limited by opportunity and choice, but one who is able to appreciate, even delight in the curiosity of youth without needing to chase after it. He values what he has accumulated over the years, the emotional as well as material, his knowledge and experience challenging his students at every turn. He will not accept the statement “I don’t know” from the dancer, forcing her to participate in her own recovery, to learn the tools to deal with crippling anxiety.
There is conflict and resolution in The Good Psychologist, tragedy shadowing the edges but all of it reasonable, an appropriate response to the demands of teacher, student and patient. Whether in the classroom, the office or his personal life, the psychologist inhabits each role with ease, a man who has found his place in the world, who neither hoards his knowledge nor forces it upon others, a skilled teacher who is also a flawed human. Perhaps this unusual novel cannot really be appreciated until the end, as the pieces slide into place. It is a journey well worth the effort.