Before I begin this review, let me first point out that this is a horror novel. I think it’s important that I point this out because some reviewers on Amazon and Bookishfirst seem to have missed that. I read a handful of reviews giving this novel one or two stars because it’s “not a psychological thriller” or the reviewer “doesn’t like horror novels.” One reviewer even complained out the ending, which she would have spoiled…if she’d read the ending. She instead spoiled a plot point that happened about 150 pages into the novel.
People of the internet, if you’re going to review a book, something the author has spent way more time writing than you will take to write your review, please pull your head out of your anus long enough to note the genre and actually finish the book.
The Patient is the debut novel of Jasper DeWitt. The story is told through a series on online posts on a fictional medical forum by our protagonist, Parker H., as he tries to explain his harrowing experience with his first real psychiatric patient, Joe M.
The story begins soon after Parker, a psychiatrist who has recently graduated from an Ivy League school, begins to work at a psychiatric hospital near where his fiancé, Jocelyn, is attending graduate school. It is here that he learns of the patient, a man only known by Joe. Joe has been in the hospital since age six (think Michael Myers, but more mental stabbing than physical stabbing), and none of the doctors have been able to diagnose him as his symptoms keep changing, and most of his doctors end up going mad or committing suicide.
Being young, over educated, and stupid, Parker decides to take up the challenge and attempt to treat and cure Joe. I don’t want to give anything away, but he should left well enough alone, as my father would say.
First of all, I do not read a lot of horror novels (I’m a coward), so I cannot comment on this novel’s overall adherence to the genre.
Did it scare me while I was reading it? Nope.
Will I likely have nightmares now that I’ve finished it? Most probably.
To me this read like a good thriller mystery. The set up was good, the over-all plot was compelling, and the antagonist was truly the stuff of nightmares. It’s a little on the short side, but that meant I could finish it in one sitting—so I’m not complaining. I also really liked the forum-posting formula he used because it was clever, original, and really kept the plot moving.
The major issue I had with this novel was the character development of both Parker and his fiancé, Jocelyn (who was barely a character to begin with, but more on that later).
Every writer has heard it preached, “show don’t tell,” and with Parker we seem to have an example of a whole lot of telling with very little showing. The entire first chapter involves Parker telling us how smart he is. He went to an Ivy League school, his professors thought he was “wasting his brilliance” by working at the rundown hospital, one of his fellow psychiatrists even calls him “wonder boy.”
We learn all this from an info dump at the beginning of the novel, which could be forgiven if we’d then been shown some examples of this brilliance throughout the plot, but instead we see Parker making a series of exhaustive, unprofessional decisions. For one thing, he trots into Joe’s room for a session without any backup or tranquilizers, and keep in mind that Joe is thought to be criminally insane—he has attacked people!
However, what really annoyed me is that halfway though the book this Ivy League man of science suddenly suggests that Joe’s issues might just be “supernatural” in origin. He even suggests an exorcism. This whole scene made me wonder if the author had ever met a psychiatrist, because I’ve met a few, and most of them would have Parker himself institutionalized for suggesting such as that. Honestly, I almost put the book down right there, but I’m very glad I didn’t.
The other character who suffers from this flaw is Jocelyn, who is really more of a plot device than anything resembling a female character. For one thing, she does not have a single line of dialogue, but her presence is what pushes the narrator to write the story. I can’t say anything more about her without giving away a major plot point, so I’ll come back to this at the end.
I gave this novel three and a half stars because I honestly feel that the good outweighed the bad. DeWitt’s antagonist is surprising, well developed, and exceptionally creepy. I almost gave it four stars just for the antagonist, and if DeWitt can write a character like that, then I’m really looking forward to his next novel. If you are a fan of psychological thrillers with a touch of possibly supernatural darkness, this book is for you.
So, normally, I would not dwell on a piece of character criticism, but I’ve read more than one novel in which a female character is treated like Jocelyn was here, and it’s something that I would like to not read again.
Here’s the thing, Jocelyn basically becomes the “girlfriend in the fridge trope” (you know, the one where something horrible happens to the girlfriend who is clearly only in the story for something horrible to happen to her?). She doesn’t die, but she is sexually assaulted by the antagonist. The assault is not graphic or even detailed, so this is not a trigger warning. However, I do feel that it is kind of glossed over. Basically, it’s just a thing that happens, and it should not be that way.
I’m not saying novels should not include stories with assault, but when such violence is included, the novel should then deal with the repercussions. At the very least, Jocelyn should have had a line of dialogue, otherwise, she is just a voiceless victim.
Please, future novelists, if you are going to have a character killed or assaulted in your novel, please take the time to make the reader care about that character. Such acts of violence are abhorrent and we readers should feel that abhorrence.