Book review: The Therapist by Nial Giacomelli
What is wonderful about the novella format is that it has a distinct character of its own. If the focus of a short story is on an impression, an idea or a sketch and a novel is all about elaborating a plot, a novella enjoys the benefits of both, having the precision of a short story, but being able to dwell on a particular sentiment and explore it more deeply than any of the other ways of writing. Often the sentiment explored is a difficult, complex one and in a story called The Therapist, you can imagine that's the case here.
In fact, Nial Giacomelli's beautiful debut novella uses both the deep exploration of a sentiment or impression as well as plot to make The Therapist also a form of therapy; whether that's for the protagonist, the writer or for the reader that's up to the individual, but the possibilities are all there. The subject, as you might expect from someone seeing a therapist, is indeed a difficult one dealing with the death of a child, coming to terms with loss, grief, bereavement. But evidently, if it's dealt with sensitively, it can be very rewarding, from a literary as well as a personal viewpoint.
Because it's such a complex subject, one that is difficult to nail down in words, Giacomelli finds several interesting and original angles to approach the subject. The narrator is visiting a therapist with his wife Simone, the two of them trying to come to terms with the death of their son Phineas in an accident by the sea. The sea and the sound of running water become a recurring image in the story, one that clearly suggests something that has had a major impact on both of them. In fact, it seems worse for Simone, who appears to be sinking into a deep depression and unable to move on.
But there is also an epidemic crisis being reported on the news that appears to also connect to the mood. A strange illness has broken out in Oregon, but is rapidly sweeping across the country, causing auditory and visual hallucinations, weakening victims to the point where they start to vanish. Whether this is real is difficult to determine, but it definitely feeds into the expression of grief that the narrator is experiencing or his failure to come to terms with his grief and the deterioration that is clearly affecting his wife.
That's just one fascinating image that the Nial Giacomelli uses in The Therapist, one that puts grief and bereavement down in physical terms, considering the organic nature of humanity, to how the memories that define us and how we relate to people are also subject to actual physical degradation and can also vanish. Dreams, guilt, wish fulfilment, imagining what could have been, trying to blot out what has really occurred are all part of the complex sentiments that the narrator grapples with, that we all grapple with to one extent or another. Giacomelli captures that brilliantly in what is evidently a book heavy on mood and troubling imagery, but which works its way through to an incredibly moving resolution.