"The Good Patient"
(reviewed by Kam Aures APR 04, 2004)
"I've spent a goodly portion of my life doling out fifty-minute dollops of my mind to head doctors - PhDs and MSWs, even an EdD, one time. Dr. Lindholm is my fifth. She's my first psychiatrist, though.
Shall I give it all away, right up front? I'm here to see her because of the splint on my right hand. A hard shell of plastic that protects three broken metacarpals and two dislocated knuckles, which throb dimly even though it's been two days and a half-dozen schedule four drugs since I hit the bathroom wall. I admit it, freely and adultly, with full cognitive rationality, and I suppose I'd beat myself up if that wouldn't constitute overkill. But I should have known better than to pop a wall with my right hand, of all things, with bones so fragile and used to this routine they crack like stale cookies. If I had to hurt myself- and it seems, at least in the moment, that I had - I should have done something less ostentatious, like burning my palm on the stove, or tripping in front of a subway. Not breaking my hand again. Not something so token, so recidivist."
To a stranger looking in, Darien Gilbertson seems to have a happy, normal life. She is successful in her career and has a loving husband named Robert. However, Darien has deep emotional issues that result in her inflicting acts of self-mutilation such as the above instance of deliberately breaking her hand.
Having been to a number of therapists, Darien almost treats the experience as a game because she knows exactly what she is supposed to say and how she is supposed to act. For instance, on her first visit to Dr. Lindholm she is asked why she thinks she is there. "After five doctors, I have the first visit procedure down and can go through the routine on autopilot, laying out the relevant data points like setting the table for a five-course meal. Anorexia at age 10, bulimia at age 12, alcoholism and sexual promiscuity with the onset of puberty; lying, nightmares, and self-mutilation for as long as I can remember." Throughout her visits, Darien tries to match wits with Dr. Lindholm by self-diagnosing and showing her knowledge of psychiatric theories and principles. However, after many visits, Darien unearths the true cause of all of her actions and as a result her world is turned upside down.
Duisberg's debut is a very well-written and intellectually stimulating novel. The author does an excellent job in the area of character development and we are able to really get to know (and depending on the individual either love or hate) the characters. We are able to experience the broad range of emotions that they feel from sheer joy to deep, crushing despair and everything in between.
The author also has a flair for writing descriptive passages and this allows us to fully visualize the settings, people, and situations, down to the last detail. For example, in one passage Darien describes Dr. Lindholm as, "...tall and
willowy, and Aryan to the extreme: corn silk hair in a chin length bob, pale blue-gray eyes and skin with an enviable translucence. I swear you can see bones and blood vessels through if you catch the light right. She's dressed in a sage green suit, discreet letter Cs stamped on the buttons, and heels that actually match." The novel is filled with sentences and paragraphs such as these which I feel is necessary to develop a full understanding of the characters and events.
Even though the subject matter is somewhat grim, The Good Patient is a deeply involving, expertly written book of a woman's journey through the past and present to find peace. I recommend giving this new author a try and I look forward to more of her work in the future.
- Amazon readers rating: from 12 reviews
Read an excerpt from The Good Patient at St. Martin's
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The Good Patient (February 2003)
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- IdentityTheory interview with Kristin Waterfield Duisberg
- Reading Guide for The Good Patient (in PDF)
- SeacoastOnline review of The Good Patient
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About the Author:
Kristin Waterfield Duisberg grew up in Durham, New Hampshire. She attended Bowdoin College in Maine and the creative writing program at Boston University. She has worked in at JP Morgan in editing research reports and in Corporate Communications at Massachusetts General Hospital.
The Good Patient was published to critical acclaim with starred reviews from Kirkus Review and the ALA Booklist and rave review from Publisher's Weekly.
She splits her time between writing (freelance, fiction) and motherhood; she and her husband Erik have two children under the age of five years old. They live in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.