ON THE COUCH
Avon Books • Trade Paperback
June 29, 2004
Meet Marlowe: A Manhattan psychologist who spends all her time helping other people recognize how unhealthy their relationships are.
Meet Joe: A blunt NYPD detective who's still smarting from being kicked off the Organized Crime Task Force and dumped by his wife.
What they have in common: A severely dysfunctional love life.Clearly, they're perfect for each other. Now the only thing standing in the way of a blissful relationship is organized crime, the FBI, and an investigation into an Upper West Side brothel that leads straight to Marlowe's door.
It's three a.m. in the city that never sleeps and the phone is ringing. I fumble for the receiver in the dark, only half awake. A chipper male voice asks if he can make an appointment.
"An appointment?" I ask. "What time is it?"
"Uh, wrong number," says the man, and hangs up.
I stare at the ceiling for a while, indiscriminately cursing men and phones.
"Who was it," asks my husband from the other side of the bed.
"Some idiot," I reply.
The next night, it happens again.
"He thinks we're an escort service," I realize. "Hey," I tell my husband. "We must have the same number as an escort service."
"Next time, string them along," suggests my husband.
But the next time, I'm too pissed off. "Check the damn number, why don't you."
In real life, that's where the story ends. But I kept wondering: What if I had strung the callers along? What if I could have asked the men, Why are you calling? You sound reasonably young, well-spoken, even attractive. What do you really want?
I began to think about the people I have paid for their services: Personal trainers at the gym from time to time. Manicurists. Therapists. I considered the whole strange gray area that lies between purely professional and purely personal relationships.
And that's how I came up with the idea for a novel about a psychologist who gets mistaken for a call girl by a cop.
I had great fun researching On the Couch - I got to see the very top floor of the Plaza hotel, (where not even Eloise gets to go), in order to meet the head of security there. I got to go on a ride along in the back of a police car. And I got mistaken for the top ranking uniform during an altercation, because I was the one wearing a police jacket in 90 degree heat (in order to hide the bullet proof vest I was required to wear).
Maybe because of all the research, I wound up finding Joe's voice extremely easy to access. Of all the male characters I've ever written, I feel the closest to Joe, who would sometimes speak up in the middle of a scene and say things like, Listen, it's your book and all, but I would not be getting nervous here. You might be getting nervous here. I would be getting royally pissed off.
There's nothing a writer likes better than characters that speak up for themselves.
Most, but not all, of what I learned went into the novel. The rest (like, don't leave a Hershey's bar on top of your uniform hat in the back seat of your Patrol car during the month of July) will have to be filed away for future reference.
In any case, the middle-of-the-night phone calls have now stopped. I am, however, getting a lot of really peculiar emails with subject lines such as, prozacvomitpenguin pleasure pills and, Is your lover satisfied with your engine?
But that's really another story.
Hope you have as much fun reading about Joe and Marlowe as I had writing about them. Please scroll down just a bit to read an excerpt.
- Alisa Kwitney
I woke up and discovered that the phone was ringing. I had the groggy impression that it had been ringing for some time, and that the call was probably urgent.
"Hello," I said. It came out in a throaty whisper.
"God, you sound sexy. Can I come over right now and see you?"
I rolled over to check the clock on my bedside table, accidentally kicking my cat in the head. It was one forty in the morning, I was barely conscious, and at some point during the night I'd managed to put my foot through my black lace nightgown, ripping it down the middle.
Of course I was going to see him.
"I'm not sure," I said slowly. "Did you have an appointment?"
There was a pause on the other end. "I thought I did. I mean, I think I do. Do I?"
I turned on the light and my cat glared at me before jumping off the bed. "I believe you had an appointment at just after one."
"There was a problem and I just got off work this minute."
I pulled my torn nightgown over my head. "Hmm. I don't know about this. You're not a cop, are you?"
"Do I sound like a cop?"
"You can't always go by how people sound. Talking without having to look at someone is the easiest way to lie." Rummaging through my lingerie drawer, I tossed aside twelve pairs of cotton bikini underpants and four beige brassieres before unearthing a black and pink thong and push-up bra set that looked appropriately whorish.
"So let me talk to you face to face."
I cradled the phone between my shoulder and chin as I hooked the bra's clasp between my breasts. "Are you willing to pay the price?"
"But you don't even know what that is yet."
"For you, I'll sign a blank check." I stepped into the thong panties and checked myself out in the full length mirror on my bathroom door. Should I clean up my sleep-smeared eye makeup? Nah. So what if I looked like I was taking a brief pause between sessions of inspired debauchery?
At least I didn't look like a psychologist in private practice who was about to have sex for the first time in over a year.
As for what could motivate an attractive, financially secure woman with a Ph.D. in clinical psych to let a man think that she was a call girl, well, I could say it was just being a single thirtysomething woman in Manhattan.
Or else I could cite the fact that I'd been told that if I wanted to publish my dissertation, I needed to spice it up with some intimate personal revelations.
The truth, of course, was messier, more complicated and a lot less rational. Most people think that therapists are immune to the kinds of problems they treat, but the truth is, we're all motivated by the pursuit of pleasure. Not to mention occasionally blinded by it.
If Joe were a client, I'd probably diagnose him as a high achieving, mildly obsessive type A personality with excellent coping skills and some deep, underlying insecurity. I'd also have a much better handle on what's really motivating him, because he's not the kind of guy who needs to hire a date by the hour. In fact, it's not always clear to me who's seducing whom.
"Marlowe? You still there, or did you fall asleep on me?"
"All right," I said. "You can come over. But make it snappy."
"I'm on my way."
"Oh, and Joe?"
"Yeah?""Bring your handcuffs."
End of excerpt Like it? Order it!
The foregoing is excerpted from On The Couch by Alisa Kwitney. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022