In an age of formula fiction, a novel with a fresh premise is an unexpected delight. The Philosophical Practitioner is such an original, witty, thought-provoking, and polished bit of writing that it’s hard to believe it is Larry Abrams’s debut novel.
Eric, the first-person protagonist of this clever tale, is a “philosophical practitioner.” That’s something like a psychotherapist or “life coach.” But instead of focusing on emotions and childhood traumas, Eric emphasizes the key role that reason, and his clients’ philosophic ideas and values, play in causing and resolving their problems, and ultimately, in achieving their dreams and happiness.
Eric isn’t rich, but he loves the intellectual challenges of his work, and he enjoys helping people straighten out their lives. He has a small roster of colorful clients, a cat named Circe, and a girlfriend named Sheila who is a famous movie actress. (How and why they are a couple is part of the story.)
Eric also has his own problems. Reconciling his modest New York lifestyle with that of his superstar, Hollywood-rooted girlfriend. Coping with his ailing father, who lives in a Florida nursing home. And — oh yes — worrying about that strange lady with a gun who shows up, repeatedly, at his office door, promising to kill him for reasons she won’t specify…then vanishing.
The latter mystery provides the story’s thread of mounting suspense. Eric must deal with that looming threat, emotionally and practically, while he wrestles with the problems that his neurotic clientele bring into his office. What is most clever about the story is how Abrams uses these sessions to explore some of the fundamental philosophical questions that we all face: how to find meaning in life; our need to define fulfilling goals; how to navigate the shoals of intimate relationships; whether to choose personal independence versus the siren calls of money, fame, and power.
If this material sounds dry, trust me: In Abrams’s hands, it is anything but. His dialogue is razor-sharp banter; descriptions of dress and mannerisms are transparent windows on characters’ souls; and Eric’s first-person, internal monologue is a virtual stand-up comedy routine for the reader, loaded with hilarious but incisive observations about all things large and small — anything that seizes his attention (which seems to suffer from a touch of A.D.D.). It’s great fun to look at the world through this character’s wry, shrewd, but quirky perspective.
Larry Abrams brings a fresh new voice to fiction that I want to hear again. There’s plenty of potential for Eric, the philosophical practitioner, to have a long and happy career, both in his office, and also in the pages of future books.