Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Other Side of You

This book started out pretty good, but got worse an worse 'til I could barely finish it. It's about a psychiatrist who ends up spending seven hours in a session with this suicidal woman, she tells her lame-ass lost-love story and how that led her to attempt to kill herself and he sort of falls in love with her. The author, Salley Vickers, has clearly never been to a therapist in her entire life - she presents our hero as just that - a sensitive, thoughtful man - when, clearly, he's a nightmare of a mental health professional - he has no boundaries, he gets improperly involved with his patients, and he gossips about his clients over dinner at parties. Also, he's homophobic.

I think it's the rare author who can pull off writing in the voice of the opposite sex. and Vickers does, to borrow an English phrase, a piss-poor job at it. But The Other Side of You suffers more from a weak plot and one awkward turn of phrase after another:
"Thank you for listening to me. And for telling me the truth."
"Thank you for telling me what you have told me. And for telling me to tell you the truth." Yelch.

Vickers attempts to jump on the bandwagon of best-selling books that allude to or depend on a relationship to famous paintings (like Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Da Vinci Code, and my favorite: The World to Come). Her characters find a bond over their shared admiration of Caravaggio's work - but the repeated references to Caravaggio are one-dimensional and do nothing to move the plot forward or provide insight into his life and work. The story pales next to the heightened drama that is found in nearly every one of Caravaggio's paintings.

The title, by the way, is pulled from a TS Eliot poem:
Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
-But who is that on the other side of you?

I guess what bugs me the most about the book, and is summed up in the Eliot poem, is that the characters are defined by their relationship to others - and the characters also define each other by their third-party relationships as well - those "on the other side" - in life, and art, I'm interested in the real thing.

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