What happens when the line between psychoanalyst and client becomes blurred? If an analyst goes out of their way to assist a client, are they doing their job well or are they no longer doing their job appropriately? These issues arise in Jeffrey Deitz’s first novel, Intensive Therapy.
Deitz has enjoyed a rich career. He started out as an instrumentalist at the Peabody Conservatory of Music before turning to psychiatry and psychoanalysis. Now, in his first book-length work of fiction, he describes the complicated relationship between a psychoanalyst, Jonas, and his client, Victoria. The intricate tale begins where characters are now in their current lives: both are married, both have children, and both are enjoying successful careers. But Deitz interjects the present with stories and interactions between Jonas and Victoria twenty years prior when they first met as psychoanalyst and client. We as readers begin to understand what has been at play between the two: their mutual attraction to one another jutting against their respect for the boundaries.
As the story of the present unfolds, though, there is clearly something amiss with Victoria’s teenage daughter. Then, an accident jeopardizes the lives of both of her children and sends her marriage to the brink of disaster. After twenty years, Victoria reaches out to Jonas for some assistance with her daughter as well as for personal psychoanalysis. As Victoria’s world is spiraling downward, Jonas struggles to maintain a professional distance. Her struggle with her children brings Jonas insight into his own marriage and children; interestingly, though, he continues to place Victoria first.
The book starts out a bit slow, and there were a few minor items that got me off track. For instance, why does Victoria’s son refer to her as “Mother”? While this may have been conceivable fifty years ago, or perhaps in another country, if the story is set in the present (which it is), it seemed a bit odd for an adolescent boy to use that term. The relationships, also, between Victoria and her children seemed a bit trite and ill conceived.
Around page 100, though, my entire perspective of the book changed. Up until that point, I was not sure I would be able to finish the novel. However, the tragic accident that acts as the major catalyst of the story completely changes the dynamic. I spent roughly 30 pages in tears, feeling the need to therapeutically shred tissues so that I would not claw my way through the pages, desperate to find out more.
As Deitz’s story shines in the latter part of the book, it is clear that he has pulled from his own expertise. His knowledge of music and psychoanalysis adds depth to the novel. And as the characters unfold, several questions tug insistently at the reader. Will Jonas and Victoria acknowledge their attraction and leave their respective families? Will Victoria’s children survive their awful situations? Will Victoria resurrect her relationship with her husband? Will Jonas ever be able to be the father that his wife desperately wants him to be?
While the end of the book answers many of these questions, my one complaint at this point is that the book was not enough, especially when it comes to what happens with Victoria. Though it started out as a slow read, by the end I craved a sequel.
Intensive Therapy: A Novel
Greenleaf Book Group Press, June 2015
Paperback, 352 pages