For my second weekend review I decided to stick with the theme of books connected to my family, and so I give you my review of Every Fifteen Minutes. Apparently Lisa Scottoline writes a ton of thrillers, a Harlan Coben/James Patterson type, although I had never heard of her until this book (had you guys?). My family bought this one for me the same day they bought me Mind of Winter (a joint package deal for missing my procedure).
But unlike Mind of Winter, I flew through this book in two days. When my mom came to visit last weekend, I told her about it and she decided to read it in the mornings (she was on Ohio time and woke up everyday around 6 a.m. – I hate the world at 6 a.m.) She read the entire thing in a total of six hours; you can see where I get my love of books. This also gave us some literature to discuss and a second point of view for my review.
Every Fifteen Minutes is a psychological thriller about a psychiatrist (Dr. Eric Parrish) who heads the mental ward of a hospital and also has a personal practice. He begins treating a boy named Max with severe OCD, whose condition causes him to obsess over a specific girl he tutors. Every fifteen minutes Max performs a ritual connected to the girl, and the psychiatrist begins to wonder whether or not he should report the boy for possible harm to another person. This treatment happens to begin at the same time that a sociopath decides to “destroy” Dr. Parrish, and the reader wanders into the mystery of how much could be coincidence. (There are brief chapters from the sociopath throughout, but who is voicing the chapters is a mystery until the bitter end.)
In terms of plot, I found the book extremely predictable. I have read enough true crime to identify a sociopath 25 pages in and I was absolutely right. However, my mother, who has read more thrillers and mysteries than I’ve seen in my lifetime, had absolutely no idea who the sociopath was until the end. She told me I should write in my review that it was only predictable for anyone who spends as much time obsessing over the human condition of serial killers as I do (I need more uplifting obsessions). I obsess so much, in fact, that I became very frustrated the writer only used the word sociopathy and not psychopathy, which are very different and yet seemed to be used interchangeably in this piece. So I suppose that the issue of predicability could go either way. I recommend you read it then settle the argument between my mom and me.
What I found remarkable, though, is that even though I felt sure I knew who was behind the destruction, I couldn’t wait to get to the finish line. Scottoline kept me up all night because I couldn’t bear not knowing what happened after every chapter. Her writing was well done and, I would dare to say, perfected for her chosen genre (a statement I do not make lightly).
There are aspects of the way Scottoline tells her story that, in my opinion, make her stand out from her peers. For example, this book isn’t something that seemed completely unrealistic. Sure, there were aspects of the climax that were absurd – I’ve come to expect that from virtually any thriller. But the events leading up to it, and the consequences connected to each individual event – this was a completely believable story. Sociopaths do tend to like to fuck with people (check out Confessions of a Sociopath, a terribly written book but a good insight into the “false faces” and “destruction” of one who believes herself a sociopath), and each of the hellish barriers the protagonist came up against could potentially exist in the real world. Generally, thrillers are as out there as fantasies like The Dresden Files, but Scottoline was grounded. Reading a realistic story caused me to feel more tension, as though these horrific events were happening to me. I related to the main character though I shared little to no traits with him and actually found him rather annoying. I empathized with him because I could easily understand the fact that just a few minor social attacks are enough to spin anyone out of control. Was this reaction because I have already experienced loss of control to an illness? Maybe, but I’m putting my money on probably not. (Again, please read this so you can help me settle the bet – this one with myself).
Scottoline mentions in her acknowledgements that she put a lot of energy into getting the little things right, speaking with psychiatrists and criminal law experts. While I don’t feel like she was totally on base with her sociopathy break-down (as I mentioned above), I do think she went the extra mile with OCD. OCD can be an extremely difficult disorder to write about unless you have been inside it, just like anxiety disorders (also described in the story) can be. Unlike so many books/shows that have people on something like both klonopin and xanax because authors haven’t done their benzo research (cough *Grey’s Anatomy* cough), this book highlighted the realities of stigmatized mental illness. Through her writing, Scottoline demonstrated mental illness in its best and most grotesque lights. She showed that it could be nearly harmless and mercilessly harmful, both completely true. Scottoline is no Matthew Quick when it comes to addressing mental disorders, but she may be catching up.
The author further raises the question of nature/nurture in relation to mental illness, and while I feel like she comes down on the biological side, she didn’t answer the question decisively. She allowed the voice of the sociopath to indicate that nature is obviously the source, while the psychiatrist has more open-ended conversations regarding the importance of behavior, environment, and triggers. I think this was a great way to point out that while we’ve come a long way, baby when it comes to mental illness, we really know nothing about the source of most of the controlling forces of human behavior. As a sociologist, I am all over thinking that was a great underlying theme for any book, particularly when it was so well executed.
What’s funny is that I felt some of the most unrealistic elements of the book were related to Dr. Eric Parish’s relationship with his family. He is recently divorced, and soon finds out that not only has his ex entered into another relationship, but she is also striking down on custody. The book spans approximately a 48-hour time period. With little to no direct contact with his ex-wife except through lawyers during that time frame, Eric’s entire family dynamic still changes for the better following his catastrophic life events. While Scottoline approached issues of mental illness (those which she had an expert assisting her on) with some finesse, I think she bombed portraying a version of family and fatherhood fairly hard. I have never, in life or literature, seen it so simple as good/bad when it comes to family, and familial problems generally never end wrapped up in a neat, perfect bow. More problematic, those dynamics were only loosely tied to what was happening around the story, and it felt like Scottoline was trying too hard to make them a central, key element. It was in those moments that she lost me the most. Still, as I kept coming back – reading 432 pages in 2 days coming back – I can’t claim it threw the entire story off balance.
More relevant to the story is the heartbreak the main character felt, and it led to one of my favorite quotes ever from any book: “His thoughts stopped at the familiar purple DSM, the volume that categorized the mental and emotional disorders that plagued human beings, and he wondered if being heartbroken was one of them. Or all of them.” In one way or another, heartbreak (not always of the romantic variety) does seem related to virtually all disorders, and I wonder if Scottoline understood just how profound she was in this statement. There are sections or small statements like this throughout the book making the writing and the story flow almost poetically, something else that feels so original in the thriller genre.
I do think the book probably could have ended a few chapters before it did, without a second ending and what felt like an epilogue. Still, that feels like a minor complaint in the grand scheme. If psychological thrillers are your kind of genre, check it out – it’s a true original.