Names matter, don’t matter

 

They do if you give them up. Daniel Pierce is a seasoned psychologist, presumably trained to maintain the confidentiality of his patients, or clients as he sometimes calls them. It’s the most important thing he does, he says, and he doesn’t do much. He gives the reader his name, plus that of some others, people who don’t require or deserve the privacy, but otherwise names are a problem. People’s names, place names: they don’t matter, or they are anonymous. My novel, Venus Looks Down On A Prairie Vole, places confidentiality at the center of a host of themes underpinning its plot: that of a jaded counselor taking an impromptu hiatus from his practice, but thwarted in that effort by a stalking ex-prostitute who wants information about a patient whom she says has sexually abused a child. BTW: this ‘thwarting’ was a main reason the novel was originally called Blocked. The blockages are all around: her blocking of his escapism; his blocking of her social intervention; the internal blocks that Daniel Pierce suffers from, that…well, maybe you get the idea.

Daniel is reluctant to give it up, this information she seeks, but he strings the woman along, hopeful of a diversion to juice up his drunken life; or perhaps he’s intrigued by a strange opportunity. See, he’s met numerous people over time who are similar to Lira, the seductress who takes him to a bar, then to her home, and then upon a ride-along through an alternative world-view, that of an activist. Like many unctuous members of society, she wants Daniel to violate his neutral position, the trust that one of his patients has placed in him, in the service of protecting society, and specifically children. But it doesn’t work like that, Daniel rebukes. In fact, he declares that such cavalier heroics will do more harm than good, impinging upon efforts to prevent child abuse rather than the reverse. He articulates, of course, something I believe: that if our profession is going to help understand child abuse, we have to give its perpetrators reason to speak to professionals. And I mean speak to us, not comply with us. That means maintaining privacy when hearing that which turns the stomach. As far as authorities are concerned, it means not naming names.

Daniel Pierce wasn’t always so inclined to protect devils in order to further understand them. One of his background jobs was that of a group home director—a man in charge of delinquent boys, who keep secrets as well as any therapist, and punish violations of confidentiality more severely than the board of behavioral sciences ever does. A passage depicting efforts to out the identity of a house assailant reveals Daniel as a kind of one-time policeman: a house heavy and dad, lecturing young criminal minds about the importance of standing by the innocent; about not protecting wrongdoers, by giving up their names to those in charge. Daniel’s youthful adversaries managed to disillusion him, by reminding that for many, loyalty is more important than justice; that protecting friends and other loved ones is more compelling than doing right. Now it’s sometime later and Daniel Pierce is not so sure about who is innocent and who isn’t; about who are the abusers, or the oppressed. This is partly because he feels like one of the oppressed, which is hardly surprising, topically speaking. His political leanings unclear, he could be a supporter of either Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders: marginalized, confused, and looking to blame either a subset of society or its entrenched institutions for the messy world he’s a tiny part of.

On balance, his biases are progressive, but above all he’s isolated, seeing hypocrisy, shallow rhetoric and contrived solutions on all sides of the grand social split. He’s alienated, fed up, and tired of social advocates in particular: bleating feminists on the left, blow-hard paternalists on the right. Grieving the loss of his one and only love of his life, and estranged from his son, his only child, he’s in collapse, sliding along a path towards a bottom out drinking experience until this one woman appears, like a seraphic breeze with a provocative mission. She says Derek Metcalf, Daniel’s patient, has committed a horrible crime, and that Daniel can and should help him to confess, if not report that event if it’s already occurred. Daniel is non-committal, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with Lira’s plan, or its premise, and privately holding that he doesn’t know much. Like many troubled drinkers, he doesn’t remember much. Actually, he doesn’t even remember (partly due to his alcoholism) ever seeing a patient named Derek Metcalf. The profile Lira gives him sounds a bit like a man named Andrew, who came to see him once, flitting in on a bicycle, discussing a sordid life of street drugs and prostitutes, appearing and later proving elusive, for he too is on the run, escaping from his life, operating incommunicado, living anonymously, having sex anonymously; explaining that his name, where he’s from, where and who he is at any time doesn’t matter. Only it matters.

 

 

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