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Monday
Apr242017

Book Review: He Counts Their Tears.

He Counts Their Tears. Mary Ann D’Alto. Indianapolis: Dog Ear Publishing, August 27, 2015, Trade Paperback, Hardcover, and Kindle,184 pages.

Reviewed by Mary-Megan Kalvig.

Dr. Aaron Stein, who considers himself “God’s twin,” is a fertility specialist highly skilled at creating life. Unfortunately, he takes far more pleasure in destroying people’s souls. Through charm and subtle hypnosis, Dr. Stein finds vulnerable women and makes them believe they’re soul mates. Then, once the women are deep in his web of illusion, he abruptly breaks things off, leaving them confused and destroyed. When he fears getting caught, he calls upon his cousin Constance, who has always sworn to protect him.

In her debut novel, Mary Ann D’Alto does a commendable job deftly creating protagonist Dr. Aaron Stein, an exceptionally twisted character with a flawless method of crushing women, cleverly portraying him (to the unsuspecting onlooker) as just a guy who broke some girl’s heart. In reality, he causes the girl inconsolable misery. As a reader, you want him to be punished, but since no laws have been broken, there really isn’t anything that can be done to him to get justice for the girl.

As compelling as it is to read about the doctor’s actions and hope he gets caught, the novel gets stuck in repetitive backstory. The narrative starts with a threat to Dr. Stein—a true risk of him being exposed. Unfortunately, rather than letting that drama play out, D’Alto goes into a lengthy description of the doctor and his “method,” which leads into his past and how he became a psychopath.

Because of the large amount of backstory, the first fifty pages of the novel do not drive the story forward. For example, at one point his marriage to Ruth is discussed, going back to their wedding day when she met his ex-wife Lily. While the description of his relationship and marriage to Lily does show a little about the character of Dr. Stein and how he treated his wife, it isn’t pertinent to moving the story forward. At the same time, the lengthy description of his “method” could have been just as easily illustrated with one of his conquests playing out, rather than simply explaining it. The first half of the novel would have benefited from the old adage, “Show don’t tell.”

When the novel changes pace and starts showing what is going on with Dr. Stein and how his “method” works, it is done without any real conflict or threat against him. Near the end, there is one person who stands up against him, but he isn’t truly concerned, and it seems to resolve itself without any real effort. The plot would have benefited from someone throwing a kink into his plans and creating conflict with each woman.   

Finally, I find it problematic that every woman in this novel is cast as weak and gullible. The doctor’s wife Ruth is a submissive “love slave” who is endlessly demeaned despite her being a highly-educated doctor. Every woman he goes after is portrayed as desperate for attention, even after he initially gives them a creepy vibe. While I’m sure there are women like that, I find it hard to believe, for example, that a woman would obsess over a man with whom she had a two-second conversation about dog walking. The one time there is an independent woman who stands up against the doctor, she’s treated like a villain and outcast, even among her peers.  

Mary Ann D’Alto created an exceptionally intriguing character in Dr. Aaron Stein. And while disturbing to most, the character’s method of crushing women’s souls made this psychological thriller an interesting read.

 

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