Ann Garvin’s I Like You Just Fine When You’re Not Around reads like a comic adaptation of the Book of Job, highlighted by some fun and hijinks in a Wisconsin (although it does take the author nearly 100 pages to let the reader know the bulk of the novel is set in the badger state) nursing home.
The novel’s hero is psychologist/therapist Tig Monahan. If she is not quite a saintly Job clone, she is a good person with an overwhelming sense of responsibility for her family and patients. As the novel begins, she loses her job when she blows up at a particularly obnoxious patient during a therapy session. Prepared to go off to Hawaii with her long term boyfriend, she is unceremoniously dumped as he leaves for the plane.
She had been caring for her Alzheimer afflicted mother at home, but has had to ship her off to a nursing home. Her mother no longer recognizes her and constantly asks for her older sister Wendy who has distanced herself from her mother’s care. When Wendy finally shows up, she is in the final stages of pregnancy, and soon gives birth to a colicky baby girl. In a state of postpartum depression, she runs off leaving Tig, who feels herself obligated to care for everyone, now to care for both her niece and her mother.
She has an opportunity to solve some of her problems when she is persuaded to host a radio call in-show where she will give advice about relationship fairness. However after some success, that ends with the threat of a lawsuit. Tig may not be afflicted with boils, but that’s probably just an oversight.
And Garvin plays all this for laughs. Not only laughs though. There is a good bit of emotional truth in Garvin’s description of family relationships, of the different ways people try to deal with the loss of vibrant loved ones to the haze of Alzheimer’s disease. What it feels like when a mother no longer recognizes her child.
What it feel like when it seems like there is a moment of clarity, only to find it a chimera. Good comedy has to be rooted in truth, and Garvin knows what she is talking about.
Now while one might expect a professional therapist to be better able to cope with the slings and arrows life outrageously throws her way than the average citizen, she isn’t. Tig, for all her abilities to deal with the problems of others, has little insight into her own. When it comes to her own life, she is remarkably obtuse. Tig’s is quite obviously a case of physician heal thyself.
I Like You Just Fine When You’re Not Around is the account of whether she manages to do so. It is the kind of story, one can imagine becoming a movie of the week on the Lifetime channel—an entertaining and touching summer read.