DELMAR — Steven Sandler, M.D., never gets tired of his job. It’s a feat many people wish they could say was true for themselves.
Sandler, a psychiatrist, is no stranger to the dark parts of the brain. While his professional life requires him to dig deep into a patient’s psyche for clues about mental and physical ailments, his personal life is a creative outlet for the things he’s learned from his years of work.
Sandler released his newest novel, “The Age of Worry,” just before Christmas. The psychological page-turner will be available at I Love Books, The Book House and Market Block Books in the coming weeks.
The novel touches on the toxic but intense bonds in families; in many cases, those bonds are formed and kept even through immense trauma. In the novel, Daniel Wunsch is in an ongoing battle with his daughter, Cordelia, over her frequent drinking. Daniel’s concern is exacerbated by his own trauma; his mother, a raging alcoholic, abandoned him at 17. Cordelia looks exactly like the mother he lost and he sees red flags of old behaviors. As he tries to get through to his daughter, she pushes away, with misunderstanding and anger on both sides fracturing an already rocky relationship. When Daniel begins to receive anonymous clues about his mother’s whereabouts throughout the years, he and Cordelia are forced to reckon with their demons, both individually and as a family unit, as they follow the journey.
Daniel and Cordelia are abstract inspirations from some of Sandler’s patients. While no character has a parallel arc to his real-life practice, Sandler said his observation of family bonds, especially those created through trauma, helped shape the story.
“I had gotten a few chapters in and knew I wanted to go somewhere with this because I needed to give these characters a place to develop,” he said. “Before I knew it, I couldn’t keep up with the storyline. I would bring paper and pen with me when I walked my dog and found myself stopping at random points to write down ideas I had about Dan and Cordelia’s future.”
“The Age of Worry” is Sandler’s first attempt at a fiction novel. His first book was “basically a textbook,” he recalled, and his second work, “Tea With Freud,” used the works of Sigmund Freud as a window into the world of psychotherapy. When “Tea With Freud” included enough fiction components to keep the core lessons compelling to any reader, Sandler knew he could try his hand at a totally fictional work.
“Literally with everything Dan says, Cordelia pushes away more, but they are so bonded that the story needs both of them,” Sandler said. “Dan and Cordelia’s story is just one of many examples of the dysfunction many families cope with.”
Sandler said writing the book was an extension of his love for psychiatry in general. Despite his life being surrounded by the brain, his favorite thing is still to get together with a fellow psychiatrist and talk psychotherapy. He’s committed to using the story of Daniel and Cordelia as an olive branch of compassion; the story will serve as a reminder to be kind to everyone and an encouragement to try to understand the other person. He added the story would be perfect for book clubs, as it can open a conversation far more personal than just the contents itself.
“These characters all do completely inexcusable things due to their situation,” Sandler concluded. “Despite those bad behaviors, I want the reader to feel compassion for the space these characters are in. I want readers to understand how deep these familial bonds are and hopefully be able to identify when one isn’t healthy anymore.”
For more information about “The Age of Worry,” visit stevenbsandler.com.