Maybe You Should Talk to Someone
By Lori Gottlieb. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 412 pages, $28.)
Few mysteries are more intoxicating than what goes on behind the door of a therapist’s office: Don’t we desperately want to know the raw, unedited version of other peoples’ lives unburnished by Facebook?
“Maybe You Should Talk to Someone” offers a rare, funny and deeply compelling dive into the human condition confirming that, yes, being alive is hard as hell sometimes.
Lucky for readers, Lori Gottlieb worked in series development at NBC before becoming a psychotherapist and is a wonderful writer skilled at character development and story arc. But the plot twists developed in the writers’ room are nothing compared to what we’re invited to witness in the intimate setting of her Los Angeles psychotherapy office.
Gottlieb’s reason to seek therapy for herself — blindsided by a breakup — is the least interesting aspect of a fascinating read. Far more powerful is how, over many months and with herculean patience, wisdom and warmth, she helps wounded humans break free of traumas tethering them to wholly unsatisfactory lives.
“John” is beyond arrogant, eating his lunch during sessions, refusing to silence his phone, calling everybody an idiot. Gottlieb stays with him week after week and, remarkably, he stays too, until we witness his aching breakthrough.
“Rita” proves that humans are supremely good at repeating their parents’ mistakes. We get no happy Hollywood ending with Rita, but we are rooting for her to finally break free of her demons and embrace happiness at age 70.
Sweet “Julie” reminds us of how unfair life can be as she faces a recurrence of cancer in her 30s.
Reading Gottlieb’s book, we are reminded that there is no hierarchy to the pain of being alive. A tissue box featured on the book’s cover hints that you’ll want to have your own nearby. But Gottlieb also offers proof that there’s no limit to our desire to make sense of it all, no expiration date on our capacity to change.
We just need someone who sees us, who listens more than talks, who asks questions to push us toward self-awareness. Readers will be forgiven for considering a move to Los Angeles to grab Gottlieb’s next open appointment.
At Briarwood School for Girls
By Michael Knight. (Atlantic Monthly Press, 240 pages, $26.)
With evocative language and a true sense of place, Southerner Michael Knight combines a coming-of-age tale, a ghost story and a meditation on history in his engrossing latest novel, “At Briarwood School for Girls.”
It’s 1994, and Virginia boarding school student Lenore Littlefield is keeping a huge secret from even her closest friends: She’s pregnant. She also seems to be getting messages from beyond the grave from Elizabeth Archer, a student who hanged herself after her fiancé was killed during World War I.
Meanwhile, Lenore’s rebellious buddy Poppy Tuttle wants to fight the Walt Disney Company’s real-life plan to build a theme park nearby called Disney’s America. Using pep talk straight from the basketball court, Coach Fink leads her new Drama Club charges — including Lenore, who’s working off a demerit for busting curfew — in a production of “The Phantom of Thornton Hall,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning work by Briarwood alum Eugenia Marsh. History teacher Lucas Bishop finds himself befuddled by the rarefied all-girls environment and teams with Coach Fink to track down the now reclusive playwright.
Does history repeat itself? Is it “just a story we tell ourselves about the past”? Featuring clever plot twists, the colorful “At Briarwood School for Girls” takes the reader on a memorable ride.