I’ve long since harbored a weakness for novels surrounding the rich and privileged. There’s just something about the glamour of high society that captures my imagination, like being allowed a glimpse into another world. Of course, what makes these stories all the more intriguing are the secrets and hostilities that lurk beneath the perfect facades, and for the hero in Thirteen Therapists, a highly original debut novel by Russell J. Sanders, his seemingly idyllic lifestyle isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
To an outsider, seventeen-year-old Aaron has it all—wealthy parents, an education at a prestigious prep school, even his own Mercedes Benz to drive around in. Yet, being the middle son of Sylvia Karnes Hardaway, queen of Chicago society, is far from easy. For one thing, he is convinced his mother doesn’t love him, favoring her more artistic offspring. For another, and for reasons Aaron has never fully understood, Sylvia put him in therapy at the age of six. Since then, he has gone through 12 therapists, all of whom have tried and failed to persuade him to open up. Now, therapist number 13 enters Aaron’s life, forcing him to confront truths he was scarcely even aware of.
Aaron is a good boy, the sort who does his homework on time and keeps out of trouble… that is, until he meets Derek, a rebel with charm and an irresistible air of danger. Suddenly, Aaron finds himself falling madly in love, while Derek introduces him to a heady existence of drugs, wild parties, and even wilder sex. For all Derek’s tenderness, however, there is a darkness in him—a darkness Aaron does his best to ignore. His therapist warns him to keep his eyes wide open, but Aaron is too blinded by infatuation to listen. By the time he realizes what’s going on, it is already too late.
I couldn’t help but be swept along by this story of an affluent but incredibly dysfunctional family. It was one of those novels where the author kept adding layers, so that it became deeper and more complex the farther I read. Though there are some grim moments, these are more than offset by the considerable warmth, both in Aaron’s closeness to his siblings and the relationship he develops with his therapist. Most of all, I loved the mix of grit and glamour, the way the world of drugs and sleazy parties provides a contrast for the propriety of charity functions, so if this appeals to you also, I would certainly pick up Thirteen Therapists.