★★★★ In Social Work by Thomas Duffy, a clinical social worker named Lauren and a young hospital patient named Marc get to know each other over the course of numerous therapy sessions focusing on Marc’s recovery after a suicide attempt. Lauren guides Marc through a maze of failed relationships and dead-end jobs, all the while struggling with her own feelings for him and trying to keep their connection strictly professional. At the same time, Lauren is dealing with significant dilemmas of her own. Recently married, she feels it might be time to leave her job and start creating the family she has always wanted. But how can she do that when patients like Marc would be left without her much-needed guidance?
Humorous, hopeful, and charmingly helter-skelter, Social Work is a substantial work that examines multiple symptoms of modern society, including—thanks to social media and online dating—an inability to connect meaningfully with one another, coupled with the repeated feeling that we are missing out on something big. In addition, Duffy dissects some of the significant failings of twenty-first century medicine, particularly in its lack of regard for people with mental health issues and the special resources they require to recover properly. Aside from the commendable authorial commentary, Social Work is a sprawling account of one young man’s uncertain journey through New York City. One of the book’s big messages is that Marc’s mental illness does not define him, and so readers are treated to a remarkably well-rounded interpretation of a character at his nadir—and the few special people in his life who help him get through it all.