Benevolence, Cynthia Holz
Vintage Canada, 307 pages
Renata Moon is a clinical psychologist. Day after day, she sits in her office, listens to her patients talk through significant issues, and helps them find their way to happier, more fulfilling lives. And after her last patient leaves, Renata closes the door and grieves the children she cannot have.
Ben Wasserman is a psychiatrist. He sits on an ethics committee at a large hospital in Toronto, interviewing potential candidates for organ transplants and then deciding which candidates are the most worthy recipients for the limited supply. When he thinks of the successful candidates, he knows that his work makes a difference in the world, but then he hears the sad stories of the unsuccessful candidates and heads straight to a rundown bar to drown his sorrows. It isn’t ideal, but it’s more comforting than coming home to stilted conversation with an exhausted Renata over nondescript takeout.
And then Renata begins to see Stella, a young woman with powerful phobias, and slowly becomes drawn in by her kindness, generosity, and acceptance of the world for what it is. And Ben interviews Arthur, a middle-aged man who wants very much to donate a kidney to a neighbour he has known casually for twenty years. Impressed by Arthur’s altruism and a shared love of poetry, Ben agrees to meet occasionally for a drink. When Stella invites Renata to take an active interest in her pregnancy, and when Arthur invites Ben to visit his home in a nearby town, Renata and Ben must decide whether blurring the boundaries is a step worth taking.
In Benevolence, Holz explores of the themes of growth, healing, and the importance of goodness. Delivered in an understated and confiding narrative voice, this latest work by Holz should appeal to readers of Zoe Heller, Elizabeth Hay and Carol Shields.