Hearing Voices

The Listener: A Novel, by Rachel Basch, (Pegasus), 336 pages, release date 15 March, 2015

Rachel Basch’s The Listener wasn’t the novel I’d expected it to be, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. What I’d picked up on while reading the promotional material was that it dealt with a college psychologist working with an intersexed student: Noah, biologically a young man, but who moves back and forth between male and female genders in daily life.

Noah is there, but so are a lot of other characters: the therapist’s two adult daughters, his private-practice partner who’s having an affair, the partner’s wife, Noah’s mother, and Noah’s best friend Alex. The emotional center of the novel is the therapist, Malcolm Dowd, whose professional and private lives resonate with one another in uncomfortable ways.

The novel is a bit of a soap opera, but a thoughtful soap opera, one that attempts to get inside the motivations of the different characters, rather just presenting them as easily recognizable types. No one in this book is all he or she might be. The flaws of the different characters peak at different moments, keeping their relationships with one another brittle—but still, oddly, hopeful. Though the characters vary in age, each is still a work in progress, which creates a sort of emotional equality at the heart of the book.