Friday, November 18, 2016
Book Review: Out of Practice
(Spoiler warning for first three books in the "Breakup Doctor" series)
There’s a saying about how the best guests leave early enough that the hosts still want them to stay. This is also true for book series. There’s nothing more disheartening for a fan than a writer who insists on squeezing every last drop out of a protagonist. Luckily, author Phoebe Fox seems to know this instinctively. Her latest book, Out of Practice, is the fourth and final book in her "Breakup Doctor" series. And unlike Marc Antony, we come to both praise Brook Ogden and to bury her.
While Fox’s first book in the series, The Breakup Doctor, was laugh-out-loud funny as level-headed Brook turned into a deranged stalker after being dumped, Fox has steadily moved away from that type of humor as Brook’s level-headedness returned and her dilemmas became universal. In her last book, Heart Conditions, Brook’s ex-fiance became her manager, and helped raise her profile in social media, television, radio and events. Even though Michael isn’t in this book, his actions come back to haunt Brook. Just ask Kim Kardashian – celebrity attracts the haters, and in Brook’s case, it’s a high school romantic rival who uses her TV show to poke fun of Brook. Later, a new client whom Brook bonded with turns out to be a newspaper reporter, and the expose she publishes makes Brook look like little more than a manicurist. As Brook is a licensed therapist but not a PhD (in other words, the Breakup Doctor isn’t really a doctor), these criticisms cut her to the quick. Still mourning the (off-screen) death of her father and worried about her mother’s memory lapses, Brook finds herself doubting the career she’s worked so hard to build. She isn’t really even a doctor…who the hell is she to advise people about their break-ups?
Brook’s insecurities are common enough that they have their own name: Imposter Syndrome. It grabs hold of Brook so tightly, she can’t recognize it. Canceling on her clients, Brook uses her mother’s problems as an excuse to hide away, and even puts off planning her wedding to true-love Ben.
Although the humor in this book is much lighter (mostly around Brook’s best friend and sister-in-law, Sasha, juggling work and motherhood), Fox repeats the juxtaposition of the first book – that of a therapist who falls prey to issues of her own. While Out of Practice doesn’t reach Prince of Tides territory, most of the scenes are dramatic and many are frankly sad. Still, the book moves at Fox’s usual strong, steady clip, and she doesn’t dwell on misery.
One of Fox’s biggest strengths is her ability to create strong, recognizable characters. Brook’s mother has always stood out, and here, Fox makes her strongest case yet for “like mother, like daughter.” As much as Brook misses her father, she handles her emotions in the same way her mother does. Brook never talks about what drove her initial decision to become a therapist, but perhaps her quest to understand her emotionally distant mother factored into it.
Unfortunately, we’ll never find out, unless Fox changes her mind about ending the series. All four books have been entertaining, but what’s most impressive is that Fox published them in just over two years – along with her other writing responsibilities. (I am still working on the same book I started two years ago.) I’m confident that Fox’s next foray into fiction will be just as enjoyable. Phoebe, if you’re looking for another series idea, might I suggest “The Book Doctor” – a fun-loving writer struggles to finish her own novel while reviewing, editing and coaching other writers. I’m available for consults!
Thanks to Phoebe Fox for the book in exchange for an honest review.