Tuesday 21 November 2023

The Psychologist's Shadow by Laury A Egan BLOG TOUR #ThePsychologistShadow @EganLaury @RandomTTours #BookExtract


In October 1992, Dr. Ellen Haskell begins a new therapy practice in Princeton after a tragic error with a former client. Demoralized by her failure, Ellen strives to restore her emotional and professional confidence. Her parents have departed for Greece, leaving Ellen alone in their secluded country house. As her clients are introduced through their individual sessions, Ellen becomes unnerved when she receives hang-up phone calls and a series of bizarre gifts from an anonymous admirer—first at her office and then at home. As the obsessive lover increasingly invades her life, Ellen's anxiety crescendos and she begins to fear the stalker's behavior will escalate into violence.

The Psychologist's Shadow is a simmering literary suspense and a portrait of a compassionate, introspective therapist who finds herself in a dangerous struggle. As tension accumulates, the reader gains insights during sessions and through the stalker's journal entries, which serve as discordant counterpoints. Who is the shadow lover? An acquaintance, a shopkeeper, an old boyfriend, or a client?

The Psychologist's Shadow by Laury A Egan was published on 18 November 2023 by Enigma Books. I'm delighted to share an extract from the book with you today as part of this #RandomThingsTours Blog Tour. 

Excerpt: The Psychologist’s Shadow by Laury A. Egan

[note: the journal entries are interspersed throughout the main narration]

I’ve been searching for so long. To find the One, and finally I’ve found you. The last time I felt this way, it was all wrong—I was wronged—but not now. Now I’m sure. As you asked, I will prove my loyalty. 
Dear Ellen, I’m waiting and watching for your signal. 

Chapter One

The October fog was oppressive. Unlike the poet’s description, it didn’t move on little cat’s feet but in dense curtains of white, slicking every surface and thrusting its damp fingers down the collar of my trench coat. As I approached my office, I stared at the gift from my mother, a new brass plate: “Dr. Ellen J. Haskell, Clinical Psychologist.” I smiled at her kindness, used my keys to unlock the outer door, and climbed upstairs, feeling that the weather was being ushered in with me. In many ways it was, because my mood was as heavy as the air outside. It was on a foggy day such as this, six months ago in the spring, as the dogwoods were blossoming in New York City, when my confidence as a psychotherapist was severely shaken. 

Lucas Constantinou was a gifted classical guitarist, tall, slender, and strong, with virile dark looks. Perhaps it was his heritage, but he reminded me of a Greek warrior-athlete. Lucas had begun counseling after falling down a flight of icy steps and breaking his right wrist and four fingers when he had thrust his hand forward to protect his face. The other bruises healed, but despite two surgeries, his fingers and wrist would never regain the dexterity needed to play the guitar at a professional level. Thus, a year after a glorious debut and dozens of performance opportunities in America and Europe, Lucas’ career was finished. He found work as an instructor but making music was his joy, his life’s singular passion. Lucas had been in therapy with me for three months with very little improvement in his depression.
Despite my strenuous efforts to maintain a professional distance, I was attracted to Lucas, miserably so. In fact, fearing that I could no longer remain impartial, I had planned to refer him to another therapist, though I didn’t intend to reveal the reason. I was in the process of devising an explanation when the unthinkable occurred.

Like this Wednesday morning, the fog had erased the sun. I remembered watering the purple hyacinth on my window sill, noting the cheerfulness of the hyacinth’s color even in the gray light. Lucas was my first client. Knowing he was probably sitting in the outer room, waiting, filled me with pleasure. Already my intention to terminate our professional relationship had wavered.

Promptly at ten, I opened the door and there he was, smiling, but with tears in his eyes.

He rose to his feet. “I’m sorry, Ellen.”
“Lucas, what’s wrong?” 

Just as I asked the question, I smelled it—gasoline—and saw the gallon container behind his chair. Before I could say a word, Lucas flicked a cigarette lighter into flame, and with it, himself. He shrieked in agony and fell to the floor. 

“No!” I screamed. “No!” 

Horrified, my brain froze. Then I rushed into my office and pulled the rug from under the coffee table. I ran back and smothered his writhing body, smelling his charred flesh and the stench of gasoline and hearing his heart-rending cries. 

A receptionist from a doctor’s office appeared in the doorway, her eyes huge. “Oh, my god! I’ll call for help!” 

By the time NYFD and an ambulance came, a janitor had grabbed an extinguisher and doused the flames, including those on the carpet and nearby chairs. When the medics hurried in with a stretcher and removed the rug from Lucas’ face, I lost consciousness. 

He lived but with terrible burns that required countless skin grafts. I visited him in the hospital, but Lucas wouldn’t speak to me or to anyone. Eventually, his family brought him home to Voula, on the coast south of Athens, hoping their care and the sea air would be restorative. 

My left hand was singed and required treatment, but the real wound was inside, a guilt and torment only partly relieved by the efforts of my therapist, Adrienne Barrow. Hordes of questions keep assailing me: why did Lucas try to kill himself? Why select such a painful and horrific method and why do it in my office, in my presence? To prove how desperately he hated his life? Because he wanted to die near someone who cared about him, or was he angry about something I’d said? No matter how I analyzed his intentions, I felt responsible. Although Lucas had been more unstable than his words and behavior indicated, I believed my personal attraction had blinded me, and I’d been professionally negligent. 
  I took a three-week hiatus and resumed my practice in a rented room because my office was badly damaged due to the fire and smoke. By August, I decided to leave Manhattan, hoping a new location would end the frequent flashbacks and offer a fresh start, yet I worried my failure and the visions of Lucas were too deeply imprinted to heal so soon.

After this tragic event, my parents begged me to live in Princeton. Six years before, they had built a new house about eleven miles from campus, on the outskirts of Hopewell. My father, Ken, was now a professor emeritus, Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University; my mother, Myra, an art historian, had also transferred to the faculty and was retired. Although I had been raised in the city, I enjoyed the town’s academic tone and the country’s natural beauty, so when my father found a commercial lease beginning last month—September 1992—until September 1994, I readily accepted. 
The second-floor space featured a private entrance, anteroom, sunlit main office, and a small bathroom. Starting a new practice was a financial challenge, although I had savings and received modest royalties from two books. Spreading word that I was open for business was another big issue. In addition to announcements in local media, I’d scheduled lectures at Rutgers University, Trenton State and Rider Colleges, and had participated in two workshops in order to attract new clients. Princeton University’s director of counseling had also offered to make referrals, especially for creative people—my specialty. Until I could afford an apartment, I was staying at my parents’ home, a cedar-sided contemporary on six acres of woods. While the three of us were in residence, the house had been crowded, but my parents had recently left for Greece, to go off “wandering,” as my father described their travels. 

Now, as I looked through my office’s half-circle window at the iron-grille gates of Princeton University, I missed the sunlight that usually spread through the room from its southern exposure, but with three lamps on, the office was pleasantly lit. It featured a high ceiling supported by dark beams that imparted an Elizabethan air, as if the Bard himself should be sitting at my desk, quill in hand. Built-in bookcases were across from the window. Opposite the coffee table, couch, and two armchairs, my collection of Venetian Carnival masks were hung on the wall behind the desk. On the table sat a box of tissues and a vase of flowers—white chrysanthemums and sprigs of purple asters remaining from a television interview taped here last week, a “Welcome to Princeton” program. Amid the clutter of phone, fax, computer, pens, calendar, and open folders, a few photographs rested on my desk, one of which I examined: a picture taken last April with my parents on the deck of their house, in celebration of my thirty-sixth birthday. At five-foot-nine, I was five inches taller than my mother, though perhaps the difference in height was greater now, because at sixty-seven, her posture had developed a slight stoop. We looked much alike, with straight noses, wide-set brown eyes, and athletic builds. My hair, cut just above my collar, was unruly like my father’s and the same color: dark gold with casts of brown, though his hair had mostly turned gray. In the picture, he stood to my left, still tall and straight-backed at seventy-one. 

As I stared at my mother’s image again, I realized we looked comfortable with each other, whereas in earlier photos—during my teenage and young adult years—we appeared disconnected. During this period, we’d had some feisty disagreements, but perhaps this was true of most mother/daughter relationships. I recalled a time in 1978 when she was impatient for me to read Nancy Friday’s My Mother/My Self, insisting that it would be edifying. I was twenty-two and ignored her, especially after she handed me her copy which had been underlined and copiously notated, the implication being that I should attend to her perspective. Later, when the paperback was published, I bought my own book and found it very interesting, though I didn’t mention my opinion then. When we finally talked about Friday’s ideas, the discussion opened a new era of mutual appreciation. In fact, after my move to Princeton, my mother and I had become even better pals: playing tennis, going for long walks, and seeing films.

I missed my parents, especially because I knew almost no one in the area. It had only been a short while since I closed my office on West 68th Street and, though I intended to make friends, starting my new practice had required a lot of time as had recovering from Lucas’ catastrophe. I still battled with memories and was beset by doubts about my psychological steadiness and my competence as a therapist.

As I laid down the photograph, the phone rang.

“Good morning. This is Ellen Haskell.”
No response. Faint breathing.
“Hello…is anyone there?”

Whoever it was waited a few seconds and then hung up. 
A wrong number?

Laury A. Egan is the author of eleven novels, including The Firefly, Once, Upon an
Island, Doublecrossed, The Ungodly Hour, A Bittersweet Tale, and Jenny Kidd; a collection, Fog and Other Stories, as well as four volumes of poetry. 

She lives on the northern coast of New Jersey. 

X/Twitter @EganLaury

Instagram @laurya.egan

No comments:

Post a Comment