Book Review: Out of the Shadow, by Rochelle Garfield (JewishSelfPublishing 239 pages)
Reviewed by Devorah Talia Gordon
Out of the Shadow, Rochelle Garfield’s first novel, explores a plethora of today’s hot topics in the world of mental health, including psychotherapy, anorexia, and bipolar disorder. As if that was not enough, Garfield’s book explores the nuanced relationships of therapist and client, sisters, husband and wife, and parents and children.
We meet Lori, the protagonist, an author and world-renowned psychologist, as she enters treatment to confront her emotional and psychological issues. Lori grew up in the shadow of her sister Hannah, a genius, and comes to Dr. Wilson to help sort out her array of negative emotions, including her perception of being second-best. Lori is also brilliant, a recovered anorexic who founded an eating disorder clinic and designed a unique approach to the disease.
While unraveling Lori’s life story, we are introduced to Allison, a client at the clinic who is on the verge of dying from anorexia. Some facets of Allison’s life mirror Lori’s past, which triggers Lori to react in ways she later regrets. The narrative weaves its way between these two main storylines, although Allison’s serves mostly to shed light on Lori’s work as a therapist.
This rich groundwork is carefully laid; Garfield digs slowly, but deeply, as she lets the reader into the psyche of Lori, Hannah, Allison, and minor characters as well. Bit by bit, the terrain becomes clear, as hidden secrets are revealed, relationships pushed apart and pulled together. While in therapy—the bulk of Lori’s story is conveyed through her sessions—Lori’s memories are told as a narrative, bringing the reader back to the moment the events took place, as though we’re hearing it being lived, not told. The reader will learn a great deal about the therapeutic process by watching Dr. Wilson work with Lori, which is especially eye-opening for a reader who has not been in therapy.
The storyline is engaging, the conflicts real and intense; life itself is on the line in several places. However, the subtler conflicts—how Lori sees herself in relation to her sister, how her sister sees Lori, and their delicate relationship dynamics—make the heart of the book. Most engaging is the sisters’ relationship, particularly the way Lori views her sister, herself, and the choices she makes with her own children considering her upbringing.
The great attention to the inner workings of the women make the book real and show Garfield’s deep understanding of the mind and heart. I also liked that this book isn’t a book “about anorexia”—although the subject is treated gracefully—rather it’s a book about the intricacies of relationships and shows how anorexia (and other mental health issues) affect and are affected by relationships, and how people who suffer with it are highly capable and multi-faceted.
While Allison’s present day, real struggle with anorexia is gripping, it could have been even more woven into the plot. I was curious for Garfield to show more of the relationship between Lori and Allison. Perhaps she left this for a sequel.
Although by the end of the story the reader feels a sense of resolution, I appreciated Garfield’s hesitation to wrap everything up in the neatest bow. Rather, the story ends with a note of hope but also ambiguity, as life is about continually learning and growing.