To relieve her insomnia, Claire Vornoff seeks help from Dr. Declan Farrell, a well-known holistic physician, who begins to see her professionally at his country home. Farrell's methods focus on massage and bodywork, along with some acupuncture. Claire finds him an attractive paradox--sensitive and "tuned in" to her, yet also blunt and emotionally unsettling.

The client-therapist relationship becomes deeper and more complex. After Claire has a brief sexual escapade with a married man, she admits to herself that she actually loves Declan and confesses her love to him. Indirectly, he reveals that he also has strong feelings for her, but is desperately resisting those feelings and attempting to maintain his professionalism.

Claire finally breaks off their relationship and attempts to go on with her life. Over the next couple of years, Declan closes his practice, moves elsewhere, divorces his wife, and ultimately commits suicide. Claire learns of these events gradually, at second hand, as she, too, moves on, but in much a different direction. Eventually she begins a new life in Toronto.

Although the relationship between Claire and Declan occupies center stage, Claire's quest for improved health leads her to consider, and sometimes consult with, other alternative medicine practitioners as well. (I say "improved health" rather than "relief of insomnia" because, although never stated, it seems clear that Claire seeks a sense of completeness and meaning in life that goes far beyond solving her sleep problem.)

One of these healers, for example, is Mr. Spaulding, who reviews Claire's blood work and concludes, "You're in rough shape, girl." (p. 231) He explains that her "body salts are so high I can't measure them" and that her "body is throwing off one hundred times more dead cells than it should . . . "


The title of this novel raises an interesting question. Is it, in fact, true that excessive joy injures the heart? Clearly, though, at least one heart is severely injured in this story. Or perhaps two hearts are injured, but only one survives.

The relationship between Claire and Declan reminds me of an optical illusion in which the same picture yields two very different images. The first image is that of professional virtue, with the physician struggling against his own feelings to maintain an appropriate clinical distance from his patient. However, the alternate image is that of a foolhardy therapist who has endangered his professionalism by becoming so vulnerable to emotional involvement with patients.

In the shamanistic tradition, the wounded healer engages in battle with his patient's demons and, thereby, exposes himself to the risk of destruction. Declan, who heals by virtue of his own weakness and sensitivity, is more like a shaman than he is a Western physician. Though his lack of professionalism leads to tragic consequences, he, at least, understands the complexity of human need. Contrast him with an alternative "healer" like Mr. Spaulding, whose devotion to numbers and theories probably safeguards him from personal harm, as well as from any genuine care for his patients.



Place Published

New York



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