Riveting. Humorous. Quirky. Satirical.
In other words, I could not put it down.
Shrunk, a novel by Christopher Hogart, tells the story of Henry and Helena Avalon, a couple that moves in next door to the eccentric Dr. Prendergast. Henry is a practicing psychotherapist who uses his home as his office. Prendergast is a psychiatrist, who also sees patients in his home. While presented as mildly strange, Prendergast proves to be the archenemy of the Avalons and is intent on the ultimate destruction of Henry. At times funny and others deeply unnerving, Shrunk takes a satirical look at the people who are a part of the psychotherapy profession.
What makes this book so superb is that Hogart is not writing from the perspective of a disgruntled or skeptical client. Behind his penname, the author has spent years as a practicing psychotherapist. According to his website, he has also served on the faculty of Harvard Medical School. I am not sure that there is a better position to be in to write such a novel.
When Dr. Prendergast is first introduced, he comes across as maybe a disgruntled older gentleman. Henry and Helena, who is pregnant, are an optimistic couple that are excited about their upcoming addition to their family and the new house they have purchased next door. They greet Prendergast and, out of neighborly respect, tell him about their plans for an addition to their new home. Unfortunately for the couple, Prendergast is not interested in being respectful or even nice. His interest lies in power and revenge.
It all starts out small enough. A shrill whistle pierces the quiet night just as the Avalons are falling asleep. Jarred awake, they cannot figure out where the sound is coming from. The situation escalates quickly, with Prendergast slamming car doors, honking his horn, whistling, and damaging the Avalons’ own car. Prendergast not only attacks their home but also begins to work toward ruining Henry’s career. All the while, he begins doing things to be more like Henry.
While reading, I kept wondering what the Avalons did that was offensive enough that Prendergast would wreak such havoc on their lives. Was it the addition to the house that really bothered him? Was it their obvious happiness and that they were soon going to be adding a child to their portrait? Who knows.
All that is obvious is that Prendergast is relentless, uncaring, and vicious. He stops at nothing to end the Avalons’ happiness. To make things worse, no matter who the Avalons turn to for help, everyone seems to tell them that there is no way to prove their claims—or that they simply don’t believe them. Helena aptly sums up the issue, saying, “Our encounter with the law leaves him free to do what he wants and us with no recourse.”
As if this scenario does not make this book strange enough, the slew of characters that Hogart uses to aid the plot are just as unique. There is Mendelson, a psychiatrist and administrator at the Belair Hospital, a Harvard teaching hospital, who enjoys running naked through the woods. Cobb is another administrator at Belair. Cobb’s insecurity runs incredibly deep and is apparent in almost every scene that he is included in; he has to add something to every conversation and is offended if someone else makes a witty remark that he had not thought of first.
I really could go more in depth about what happens in this novel. However, I really don’t want to ruin it for any potential readers. Within three chapters, I was intrigued. By one hundred pages, I was engrossed and anxious to find out what would happen.
By two hundred pages, I had lost count of the number of times I chuckled, was surprised, or felt infuriated for the Avalons. For those who believe that all therapists are crazy, Hogart’s novel will give them a quintessential example to point to. For everyone else, Shrunk is an enjoyable, entertaining, and humorous dark glimpse into the world of psychiatry.
Bickerstaff Press, November, 2012
Paperback, 244 pages