What do you do when you wake up one morning and every thought and physical sensation of those around you makes you feel nauseated and dizzy and completely overwhelmed? You probably don’t think, “Yay! I have superpowers now!” Like Transference’s leading lady, Janet Buckmann, you might be more likely to think of it as a super-curse and hope that it will just go away. Unfortunately for her, it doesn’t, which leads her to seek out the assistance of therapist and neighbor, Dr. Derek Verbenk.
Derek has issues of his own, starting with an inappropriate relationship with a patient that leads him to being fired from the therapeutic practice his grandfather started. He is simply going through the motions in his own private practice when Janet shows up. While Derek is grappling with how to help Janet cope with her newfound ability, Janet’s telepathy mirrors back to Derek the person he has become, and it’s not someone he likes. Could the relationship possibly be curative for both of them? Maybe, if they don’t drive each other crazy first.
Transference is a punchy, bright read from first-time novelist but long-time writer Kate Jonuska. The dialogue and chemistry between Dr. Derek Verbenk and Janet Buckmann (and between Derek and himself) is sharp and delightful and provides a strong backbone for this sometimes funny, sometimes serious, most often captivating story. When we first meet them, Janet is as combative and frenetic as Derek is myopic and stagnant. How each person evolves, and hence how the relationship develops, is clumsy and real and enjoyable to read. Jonuska deftly creates two people, that although initially unlikeable, unwind enough of their own dysfunction to become charming and appealing through their flaws and humanness. You can see the beginnings of an interesting relationship forming, and the author adroitly keeps that tension throughout the novel, without projecting too far ahead or playing coy with what might or might not happen between the two. Kate Jonuska has a keen, witty, unique voice that will likely only get more incisive and vivid with time. In this case, you don’t even need superpowers to see that.