Plot: The narrative here is easy to follow and the author writes with intention. While the novel’s thematic pieces don’t entirely coalesce meaningfully, the relationship at the heart of the story is ultimately compelling.
Prose/Style: The novel employs much conversation and dialogue, some of it stilted. Sentences are clear, but often blunt in their delivery, with a reliance on exposition.
Originality: The plot line about the relationship between a social worker and her client seems quite original, as do the parallels of searching for love and meaningful work in their lives.
Character Development: While each primary character carries great potential, in execution, neither is afforded sufficient emotional and psychological development or motivation. Marc is afflicted with schizo-affective disorder, which provides dimension to his character, but is not always consistently or believability portrayed.
Date Submitted: April 01, 2020
Duffy’s narrative alternates between Marc and Lauren’s separate lives and their minimally therapeutic sessions together. However, it rarely takes the opportunity to explore their internal lives, and their mutual interest isn’t entirely nsupported by the story. Despite long, uninterrupted stretches of dialogue, the character voices are not distinct from one another, and the language often feels stilted (“We want to shed positivity on the group by showing them an example of someone who is actually doing well”). Conversations are imbalanced; pages of mundane chatter don’t advance the story, and big life decisions are made within a few lines. Lauren’s approaches to both social work and her personal life seem antiquated for contemporary New York City, and her relationship with Ahmad comes off as transactional and devoid of emotional spark.
Marc’s life outside of his sessions contains a good deal of humor: he hopes to date a television producer and become a star of her dating show Uninhibited Morons, makes clumsy attempts to date a customer from his retail job, visits a singles’ group, and playfully banters with a fellow patient. Marc’s frustrating experiences with dating while keeping his diagnosis of mental illness secret are relatable and the narrative never judges him for his choices even when things go poorly. Readers craving an offbeat happily-ever-after will find satisfaction in seeing him finally make the right romantic match.
Takeaway: Duffy’s compassionate depiction of a bumpy but successful recovery after a suicide attempt will be deeply relatable to people on a similar path and those who love them.
Great for fans of Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Phillippa Perry and Junko Graat’s Couch Fiction: A Graphic Tale of Psychotherapy.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: C
Thomas Duffy takes a thought-provoking look at mental health and the emotional relationships surrounding it in Social Work, a human drama that plays out between a patient and therapist amidst feelings of love and loss, success and failure.
A failed suicide attempt lands Marc Ziller, 28, in the behavioral health unit at a New York hospital. His treatment includes group and individual sessions with clinical social worker Lauren Davidson. Of the therapist/patient relationship, Lauren says: “I don’t believe it’s supposed to be everlasting. A good therapist points their patients in the right direction. Job done.” Yet the lines appear blurred with her constant thoughts and concerns about Marc, even after she’s left her position.
Throughout, Lauren wrestles with her desires for marriage and a family. While Lauren’s future husband, Ahmad, may offer stability, the couple’s conversations hint at a less than heartfelt commitment.
As the story evolves, Lauren and Marc each attempt to navigate paths toward self-fulfillment.
The narrative is driven by characters and conversation, whether through Marc and Lauren’s banter, Marc’s conversations at his job, or in his revolving attempts to secure a steady relationship via the likes of singles groups or online dating. Duffy weaves a touch of humor into this eclectic and engaging mix of character interaction; for example, with a singles group excursion to the Museum of Sex, therapeutic tic-tac-toe games that turn into Hangman matches, and Marc’s joking request of one therapist for her best 20-minute relationship advice.
Readers may find the ending disappointing, however. As the final chapters move ahead a few years, the nature of the central characters’ re-connect seems oddly contrived in light of the underlying emotions hinted at throughout the primary course of the narrative. Better proofreading is also needed to correct missing words and inverted phrasing.
Although there might be some predictability here in the patient/therapist relationship, for those who favor conversational-driven writing and ventures into the human plight, Social Work provides an interesting exploration.
Marc Ziller meets social worker Lauren after his suicide attempt and their encounter changes both of their lives in Social Work, which explores their relationship against the backdrop of a psychiatric hospital in New York City.
From the beginning, Thomas Duffy excels in an approach that explores social worker Lauren's hopes, motivations, beliefs and psyche as much as patient Marc's life. Lauren's worry about Marc's size and her vulnerability being alone in a room with a suicidal stranger she really doesn't know provides a realistic introduction to her first encounter to him, reinforcing the idea that this story will be realistic and psychologically astute.
As Marc recovers, begins to date, and relies on Lauren for life advice at difficult moments, he begins to consider the type of life and partner he needs to pursue: "He was lonely and didn't really want to date someone with a high profile career. He wanted someone who could relate to his loneliness and understand how he felt hopeless at times regarding his life. While he knew being with an employed woman was sensible, he yearned for someone who could understand what he was going through."
As their professional encounters develop, he comes to acknowledge the distrust and fear that he faces from being truly vulnerable: "He felt if he shared his opinions and feelings with Holly that she'd want to stay as far away from him as possible."
The reasons why he's afraid to open up in his intimate relationships with different women he encounters in the course of this story are also the same reasons he can't fully allow Lauren into his world before he makes some bad decisions along the way.
As Thomas Duffy carefully charts dialogues and conversations, readers interested in psychological fiction are drawn them into Marc's world, choices, and the relationships he both pursues and keeps at arm's length. The detailed dialogues between Lauren and Marc reinforce the process of becoming a positive person, able to view life's opportunities without fear and with patience rather than a sense of urgency.
The challenges of daily living are explored as Marc navigates new jobs, new women, a new therapist, and new ideas as they relate to the progression of his independence: "Marc's dreams in contrast with reality seemed to be cruel to him. He would have dreams of love, success and happiness but would wake up in a small apartment with a pile of past due bills by his bed. He had to fight to get himself up the next morning and to get himself to his job."
Any reader interested in lives of quiet desperation and psychological profiles which capture emotions and reactions rather than artificial high-octane action will welcome Social Work's engrossing exploration of two disparate individuals who operate on different sides of life, but come together for a common cause.
Social Work – A New York Story
duffythewriter April 1, 2020
Social Work is Thomas Duffy’s seventh book. It is a moving story about a young man named Marc who meets a social worker named Lauren after his attempt at suicide. This story is an exploration of the bond between Marc and Lauren and the problems they face in trying to overcome the obstacles both of them experience trying to achieve their own personal happiness. It is set in New York City.
Duffy’s thoughts on Social Work
Social Work is a simple story about two people. However, the dialogue between them is far from that. It’s not solely about what is exchanged between Marc and Lauren, it’s what Thomas Duffy chooses to leave out. I would take a guess that he wrestled with that and it’s paid off. The sparseness of the dialogue at chosen moments adds to the air of loneliness which shrouds both of these characters in completely different ways.
I found myself getting frustrated with Marc and wondering why he couldn’t pull himself together and why he was so needy at times, but then instantly felt guilty. That’s real-life though, right? Not knowing how to help someone and getting frustrated when people don’t seem to find their way, or listen, and it’s why we need professionals to navigate those waters and that’s what Lauren does in this book. Her gentle nature and strong sense of values, even when struggling with her own personal situation were the perfect foil for the troubled Marc.
It’s not all loneliness and mental health issues, there are some funny clap-backs and so quite sweet moments which give Social Work an aura of hope and love.
If you enjoyed Marriage Story, give it a go!
By: Thomas Duffy
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Publication Date: October 2019
Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott
Review Date: December 6, 2019
Seasoned novelist Thomas Duffy explores the lives of a social worker, a patient, and the people around them who affect their lives in varied, complex ways in his newest book, Social Work.
Lauren is the social worker, a woman with a solid niche in her profession and an extra talent, an air of positivity that surrounds her and infuses her clients with a wish to follow her example. The latest addition to the hospital group she conducts is a tough customer: Marc tried to kill himself, and wishes he had succeeded. He joins in group and private sessions with Lauren while secretly hoping to get free of the legal restrictions so he can have another try. But there’s something about her approach that begins to affect a turnaround in Marc as it has in others. It isn’t long before he is receiving monthly benefits based on his diagnosis, and has secured a low paying, decent job. And he’s met a woman, Holly, a reality show producer who sees in Marc the kind of unusual personality traits that she’s attracted to. Meanwhile Lauren is also dating; she has connected with Ahmad, who shares her profession and takes a calm, steady careful view of it.
As Marc and Lauren talk one-on-one over the course of several months, they both privately nurse feelings of curiosity and attraction for one another. Lauren sees in Marc a challenging sparkle that is missing in her quietly evolving liaison with Ahmad. Marc clings to Lauren as the only person in his life who tells it like it is and keeps urging him to work, earn, and ultimately prosper. Eventually, they will need to make decisions – about what is best for each, and how to go on growing and progressing.
Duffy’s book is, remarkably, told mostly through conversation. This fits with the nature of his characters’ needs - one a dedicated counselor, the other a conflicted, inventive but lonely soul. As the talks continue, the helper and helping roles are often interchanged, as Marc, despite his needs and hang-ups, has much genuine wisdom to impart, and Lauren, despite her professional demeanor, is seeking the offbeat intuition that he has to share. By means of their mutually therapeutic talks together and with their chosen friends and lovers, the author reveals nuance and depth in a broad range of human relationships. Duffy himself is a social media reviewer who has had contact with notable actors and directors; he adds this dimension to the pursuits of, and discussions among, his protagonists. Their inner circumspection and outer circumstances keep changing in unexpected ways, at a fast clip, making this a compelling read.
Quill says: Thomas Duffy is a practiced novelist whose work has tackled many diverse human connections. Social Work, with its cinematic feel, and vibrant, believable characters seems poised for wide acclaim.
We’re all living a life full of ups, downs, and happy middle ground. What we go through shouldn’t be the pinnacle on deciding whether or not life is worth living. Life grants us plenty of opportunities to experience both love and loss, but we must hold up our end to see every good and bad moment through. The support of individuals working in the field of caring for other’s physical and mental well-being are the true soldiers assisting in combat. Learn and unveil what can develop into something magical with a second chance to do life differently.
In Social Work, author Thomas Duffy introduces his audience to an individual named Marc, who attempted suicide and was found by professionals willing to help him see a life worth living. From his stay in the hospital, he had opportunities to cope with what he had done while living amongst other individuals who too wanted to see the reason for life. A social worker named Lauren interacted with Marc in therapy sessions and soon learned that what Marc did was only an act out of his lowest state of depression. She saw him as a smart man who made a mistake and believes he’s working harder to keep all that he’s attaining now from the help he’s getting. Although while Marc was in therapy sessions and taking medication, he spent time continuously looking for someone to share his life with, but in all the wrong places. Life was manageable, looking for work to support himself, he wanted that level of excitement and happiness with someone. Of course, Lauren wanted him to focus more on getting a stable job because dating requires money, he never once felt she was judging him, just offered caring advice. The characters in this book speak volumes of different personalities and thought processes of what life truly means to them. It points out that even though people can have everything and lose it all with a single thought of ending their life, it can take a lot of time, work, and effort to rebuild. Many are grateful for social workers that care enough to assist them in getting back into society amongst the rest of the world.
Throughout this book, I came to an understanding that no one truly knows what the next man or woman is going through in their own world. The judgment of others shouldn’t even be a thought that crosses anyone’s mind. People are out here suffering and seeking someone to care enough to pay them more attention when others fail them. It recognizes the job of being a social worker and how working with certain individuals can take a toll on your life if you let it. Lauren was an amazing woman who saw beyond the surface of all her patients, especially in Marc’s case. She saw his potential and that his mistake shouldn’t be the highlight of his “second chance” at life.
I enjoyed reading about someone who believed that they wanted to live a better life with their second chance. He overcame his mistake and didn’t want that to happen again. All it takes is someone to care for other people for people to realize they belong amongst the living and have the same right as anyone else to be on Earth. I highly recommend everyone who feels life could be challenging to give this a read, we all have our own battles to fight, but there are people who will be in your corner cheering you on to keep living and fighting.
In Social Work author Thomas Duffy, follows his characters through their everyday lives as they work toward their respective goals. Marc attends counseling sessions with his social worker, Lauren. Marc has a rocky past to work through as Lauren has a budding relationship with her boyfriend, Ahmad, that she is building simultaneously.
Both main characters are so relatable. Duffy doesn’t shy away from Marc’s struggles or the struggles of those in his counseling group. Marc had taken some less than savory paths and ended up in a very dark place, eventually attempting to take his own life. Lauren shows him that there is hope and that life is worth living. Readers will identify with Marc’s lows and many will also identify with stepping into the shoes of those who help to lift others out of the abyss.
Lauren is an excellent social worker, and seems to really follow the rule book. She keeps counselor/patient boundaries very clear, at first anyway, but does seem to struggle with letting Marc go once she decides to leave her job. The two had developed a close but appropriate working relationship. She feels guilty when she decides to leave, and struggles with being another person in a list of those who have deserted Marc. Handing Marc over to another social worker felt like giving up on him or throwing him away to both parties involved.
Duffy also delves into relationship complications that both main characters experience. Both Marc and Lauren have their own problems in love. Marc falls for a series of girls who are never quite fitting for what he needs. Lauren hints that her now fiance, Ahmad, isn’t her type but provides her with stability and prospects for the future. Admittedly, Marc is her type, but that doesn’t seem to be an option.
Thomas Duffy also examines a predicament that many of us find ourselves in. Marc is ambitious. He has big dreams, but not a big bank account. Instead of following his dreams, he is forced at times to settle. He wants to get into the entertainment industry, but isn’t independently wealthy. This means he can’t afford to put his job to start up any projects. This leaves him to work in a job that is unfulfilling.
This is the second Duffy book I have read. His style is simple, including lots of back and forth conversation between characters that gives readers a fly-on-the-wall sort of feeling. We hear what the characters say to one another, but we are also privy to their internal dialogue. This gives a unique perspective into how people feel verses what they show to the world. He gives a glimpse into humanity’s dynamic that we are all familiar with but don’t often talk about.
Social Work flows well and is easy to understand. The characters are endearing and relatable which got me invested in the characters.
Pages: 272 | ISBN: 1694404684
Reviewed by K.C. Finn for Readers' Favorite
Social Work is a work of literary style fiction focused on interpersonal drama and human connection and was penned by author Thomas Duffy. Duffy’s seventh novel, this emotive and highly moving tale features central pair, Marc and Lauren. As Marc recovers from a suicide attempt, social worker Lauren connects with him in an attempt to help him back to normal. But the road to true happiness is not smooth for either of them, and the backdrop of New York City plays host to a wide range of emotions as their bond deepens over the obstacles they must both overcome. What follows is a gripping drama with deep-rooted, poignant commentary on the human condition.
Author Thomas Duffy has a keen sense of what makes people tick, and that resonance of the soul runs throughout his dramatic novel to keep readers glued to the psychological and emotional plight of Marc and Lauren. The slow-burning plot will suit readers who favor literary and character-led fiction, exploring the reasons for Marc’s deeds and the ways in which Lauren is able to relate to him through her work. The question of happiness is highly pertinent and reflects back on the reader to keep you thinking about it long after you’ve set the book down at night. Overall, Social Work is an exceedingly well written, highly intelligent and intrinsically human drama that is sure to captivate its readers from the start. I would highly recommend it for fans of contemporary emotive drama and psychological non-thriller fiction.
★★★★ In Social Work by Thomas Duffy, a clinical social worker named Lauren and a young hospital patient named Marc get to know each other over the course of numerous therapy sessions focusing on Marc’s recovery after a suicide attempt. Lauren guides Marc through a maze of failed relationships and dead-end jobs, all the while struggling with her own feelings for him and trying to keep their connection strictly professional. At the same time, Lauren is dealing with significant dilemmas of her own. Recently married, she feels it might be time to leave her job and start creating the family she has always wanted. But how can she do that when patients like Marc would be left without her much-needed guidance?
Humorous, hopeful, and charmingly helter-skelter, Social Work is a substantial work that examines multiple symptoms of modern society, including—thanks to social media and online dating—an inability to connect meaningfully with one another, coupled with the repeated feeling that we are missing out on something big. In addition, Duffy dissects some of the significant failings of twenty-first century medicine, particularly in its lack of regard for people with mental health issues and the special resources they require to recover properly. Aside from the commendable authorial commentary, Social Work is a sprawling account of one young man’s uncertain journey through New York City. One of the book’s big messages is that Marc’s mental illness does not define him, and so readers are treated to a remarkably well-rounded interpretation of a character at his nadir—and the few special people in his life who help him get through it all.
Author Thomas Duffy pulls back the curtain on mental health and overcoming trauma in a raw and challenging new novel, Social Work. The lines between any patient and healer can grow blurry, particularly in emotionally vulnerable spaces; this complex navigation takes center stage in the novel, leaning into discomfort and forcing readers to consider their own moral boundaries in authentic, thought-provoking ways.
Marc is an unemployed 28-year-old who recently failed to take his own life, while Lauren is a therapist who isn’t completely sure she has the heart for such an emotionally demanding job. Marc doesn’t think he needs help, and Lauren finds herself unable to keep him off her mind. Initially, their relationship is strictly professional, but after Marc leaves the hospital, their connection becomes a bit murkier. As they both pursue other relationships, attempting to live normal lives, their bond as patient and therapist continues to evolve, forever edging towards impropriety.
The novel plays out in a back-and-forth style, with perspectives bouncing between these two unpredictable characters. The structure of the book has each character going off into their own relatively cyclical lives and then coming back together for therapy sessions, where they challenge, encourage, inspire and handicap one another. Marc seems perpetually dissatisfied with the limitations of his own life, while Lauren feels torn by her ethical responsibilities, even as she moves into a more serious relationship with a new partner of her own.
The plot relies heavily on dialogue and character interactions, but also provides glimpses into the internal narrative of the two focal figures, giving readers a somewhat complete picture of their emotional states. Over the course of the novel, Marc and Lauren spiral and succeed, fall in love, and experience great loss – in tandem, but never together – creating a sense of forbidden connection that pervades the pages.
The story strikes a painfully authentic chord for anyone who has ever danced on the edge of an ethical knife, but it stumbles in the execution of the plot. Some of the narrative elements feel repetitive, or unproductive, such as Marc’s redundant relationship struggles and longing for notoriety without putting in actual effort. Similarly, Lauren’s uncertainty about making decisions in her life seems to lack any narrative arc, and her unfulfilled attraction to Marc doesn’t seem entirely justified. For a story that initially seems centered on therapy and mental health following a suicide attempt, those delicate subjects soon take a backseat to relatively commonplace explorations of romance.
On the technical side, a lack of descriptive language and a tendency towards procedural passages makes the pacing inconsistent. The book is heavily dependent on dialogue, as mentioned, but much of it lacks the ring of organic speech, and seems purely functional within the progress of the plot. Additionally, some of the more immature musings are reflective of Marc’s one-note personality, but also give the book the feeling of a young adult work, especially considering one of the characters is a trained therapist.
That being said, Social Work tackles a number of difficult subjects fearlessly, and Duffy’s writing has an endearing earnestness that draws the reader in to these characters’ lives.
by Thomas Duffy
Amazon Digital Services LLC
book review by Jonah Meyer
"The therapist-patient relationship is a tricky one. I don’t believe it’s supposed to be everlasting. A good therapist points their patient in the right direction."
It is a suicide attempt that first brings Marc to the behavioral health unit of the hospital where he meets Lauren, his therapist and caseworker. It’s difficult for Marc when his sessions are over with Lauren, as he has grown accustomed to sharing his struggles with her and receiving advice. Now, he feels he will have to “start all over” with a new therapist. To add to his already struggling life, Marc somehow makes his way onto a live taping of a new reality show featuring the first in-person dates of couples who’ve only met online, only to be utterly humiliated on TV, with a slew of negative online comments directed his way. Will he ever find the “normal life” he seeks—a loving and committed partner and a steady, fulfilling job to pay the bills?
Duffy’s book paints a realistic and fascinating picture of both the group and the one-on-one therapy sessions Marc undertakes in trying to get his life back together. At its heart, this is a book about relationships—relationships between a therapist and her patient, between the protagonist Marc and the women he dates, between him and his co-workers at the pharmacy, and even the relationship between the main character and his “mental illness.” The text is heavy with dialogue—and in this particular case, that is one of its strengths. The dialogue here is ultra-realistic, perhaps worthy of an adaption to the big screen. One can easily imagine it to be a film, refreshing in that it contains no special effects, just a good story that is character-driven and punctuated by plenty of humorous moments.
RECOMMENDED by the US Review
BY TAMMY SCILEPPI
Seems a lot of guys are feeling lost these days.
Troubling evidence is emerging which suggests that more than ever before, younger men have been struggling with low self-esteem, depression, loneliness and, in some cases, opioid addiction. Sadly, male suicide rates have increased nationwide, according to reports.
Queens native Thomas Duffy has tapped into this modern-day crisis with his seventh fiction novel – just released on Amazon – titled “Social Work.” He has written about a wide range of topics, including romance and existentialism, and even working in retail.
“A little over two years ago, I lost a friend to suicide,” Duffy recalled. “I never knew he was suffering from depression so intensely and having dealt with depression myself, I felt if I had known that, I could have tried to help him.”
The author, who was raised in Woodhaven and currently lives in Glen Oaks, felt that he needed to tell a story that addressed the complex issues surrounding suicide – through the eyes of a young man who is trying to deal with his mental health issues.
“I wanted to show that it is possible to overcome mental illness through treatment. There are parts of the main character [Marc] that parallel certain situations I’ve found myself in,” he explained.
When you read “Social Work,” you’ll understand why the special bond between Marc and his social worker Lauren, is so strong.
“At first, they don’t like each other much, but as the story progresses, they tend to sort of cherish their sessions together,” Duffy said. “For Marc, because he gets to talk about his problems, and for Lauren, because she gets to help him with advice. I feel the reader can relate to both characters, which is so very important.”
Comparing this story to the film “Silver Linings Playbook,” he explains that hope is the central theme of his book.
The author’s other novels on Amazon include: “Stockboy,” “Off the Line,” “One Love,” “Heartbreaker” and “To Never Know.”
He recently talked about “Social Work” and his previous novel, “The Separation” (his “most daring book yet”), on a show called “Between the Covers — Celebrating Books,” which was aired live before a studio audience on Strong Island Television from Paradise Studios on Long Island.
So, what is the common theme connecting all seven stories?
“Trying to find purpose and meaning in life; I think all the books convey this idea,” Duffy said.
In fact, most have some elements of his life woven throughout.
Duffy, who says he enjoys bouncing around different Queens neighborhoods, graduated from P.S. 66 in Richmond Hill (where he earned a Creative Writing award), J.H.S. 210 (Ozone Park), and Christ the King H.S. (Middle Village). He got his BA from Pace University.
In his spare time, the author reviews movies on social media, and credits his parents (both huge film buffs) for instilling in him his love for the silver screen. He said he has interviewed several celebrities, including Minnie Driver and Richard Dreyfuss.
After reading “Social Work,” folks should come away with a better understanding of the challenges that people struggling with mental issues face, because those who suffer are oftentimes, our family members, friends and neighbors, Duffy said.
“If anything, I hope this book helps fight the stigma associated with mental illness,” he said.