“Suzy took the man by his elbow and guided him out of the room. I gazed into his cold, dead eyes as they drifted past me. A sense of dysphoria washed over me at the prospect of entering the man’s memories. Anxious dread sat like lead in the pit of my stomach. My mind fled to the extirpation tablets in my desk drawer at the clinic. Would they be strong enough to wipe away his lifetime of pain from my conscious mind?”
Synopsis: Dr. Catarina Chambers wants to fix the world, one person at a time. To that end, she works to perfect a cutting-edge treatment by the name of PTER (Post Traumatic Exploratory Restitution), pioneered by a Dr. Dietrich. With this technology a psychiatrist can actually enter their patient’s memories in an effort to ease recovery from psychological trauma. Dr. Chambers’ clinic is in danger of bankruptcy, but an opportunity for a lucrative city contract could change everything. The catch? Her first patient is a complete mystery, to everyone around him and perhaps even himself. When repressed memories begin to take on a life of their own, Catarina is forced to confront her own demons. Can Dr. Chambers hold on to her self long enough to save her patient, her clinic, and her family?
Set in an alternate-reality Canada, Donaldson’s debut novel brings us a brand new vision of where technology could eventually take us in the field of psychiatry. The idea of projecting oneself into a virtual world is certainly not new (The Matrix), nor is the idea of entering an individual’s dreams (Inception); however, this setting and application in particular feels fresh and original. Psychological Trauma and Mental Health are certainly hot-button topics right now, and this novel approaches those topics in an interesting and clever way. While the setting is never described as such, I could not help but picture it as a Cyberpunk dystopia; truthfully, I’d have welcomed such a visual aesthetic as the story itself fits so well into the Cyberpunk cannon. Alas, the world of Blade Runner or Snow Crash this is not.
Catarina is a very, very troubled protagonist. Her own battle with mental trauma spans the length of the book, and we as readers get a front-row seat to it via the 1st-person narrative perspective. It is an integral part of the story and, while I cannot speak to the clinical validity of how we are presented it, I could not help but empathize with Dr. Chambers’ pain. Everyone has regrets, and the way she wrestles with hers throughout the book bring to mind some very personal experiences. As Donaldson drags us through nightmare dreamscapes, these moments can sometimes get quite intense; it is at these times that I appreciate the 1st-person perspective most. My greatest challenge in reading WFTDL was getting past the fact that the protagonist and much (if not all) of the supporting cast have a very pronounced selfish streak. To be blunt, they’re not all that likable (some of them are downright repulsive). Certainly they have their good moments, but I found it hard to connect at times. This improves massively about midway through though, so please stick it out if you find yourself in the same boat. It’ll be worth it.
Getting back to the aesthetic of the novel: all of the scenes describing the dreamscape of PTER are absolutely spectacular, and viewing them from Catarina’s perspective allows the reader to experience the same level of disorientation and confusion. It’s a very effective piece of writing, and I found it to be highly enjoyable. The level of description is astounding, and the more I read, the more I craved a visual accompaniment of some kind. This is the sort of story which lends itself incredibly well to a visual medium, and I suspect this piece would make a fantastic graphic novel or, even better, cinematic adaptation. Do you hear me Hollywood? Let’s get this off the ground shall we? The idea that our memories muddle things over time is pretty accurate in my estimation; I can personally attest to having mildly altered recollections of past events many times. A visual juxtaposition of these differing accounts would be wonderful in the film medium, and could be presented similarly to something like Rashomon.
Overall, this was quite a pleasant experience for a debut novel. I’ll admit to not being too enthused about the 1st-person perspective at first but it grew on me, particularly when Dr. Chambers was hooked up to PTER. Many of the characters felt a bit much at first, radiating selfishness and irrational aggression… but then I remembered that people often are selfish and irrational. Perhaps it was just a little too real? Regardless, this jarring behavior was smoothed over in the later acts and I was able to enjoy and appreciate what the author was doing in their exploration of the psyche. Characters were redeemed by my estimation, and I was pulled along in our protagonist’s relentless search for the truth. You can pick this book up for 4.99$ (CAD) on Kindle, or 15.99$ (CAD) in paperback format on Amazon; for a fast-paced book clocking in at just shy of 300 pages, I find this to be a good value. Donaldson is just getting warmed up in my estimation, and I am looking forward to his sequel (which is in the works; I was advised this was book 1 of a trilogy). If you enjoy brilliant visually descriptive landscapes, Cyberpunk themes, mystery, and psychological exploration, then you should do yourself a favor and give this one a chance.