A summer job as a recreational therapist in a New York City psychiatric hospital unlocks the door to self-discovery for this tale’s young heroine.
King (A Woman Walking: 2nd Edition, 2016, etc.) reaches back to her own youthful work experience to create the backdrop for her latest novel—a depressing state institution in which fragile, and sometimes violent, patients are housed rather than treated. It is 1956, and 19-year-old Rennie Weinstein needs a summer job that will pay enough to get her through her senior year of college. Concordia Hospital, home to 6,000 patients in Queens, seems to offer a better opportunity than the standard camp/swimming instructor/coffee shop summer jobs: $60 a week to show up, take the women out to play, don’t lose anyone, and go home. Experience in working with mentally ill patients not required. And no training offered. Despite the requisite Loyalty Oath that she must sign to be a state employee (although the Senate hearings ended in 1954, the debris of McCarthyism still lingers), something Rennie considers repugnant, she decides to accept the position. Nervous, confused, and burdened by her own substantial load of emotional baggage, Rennie finds herself breaking the cardinal rules of employment at Concordia, as emphasized by the director, Jack Carson: “Don’t get personal. Don’t get friendly. Don’t offer to help.” As the summer progresses, she forges friendships with a remarkable assortment of secondary characters— Bruce, the son of the head psychiatrist at Concordia; Yanni, an Israeli cafe owner; and three protective construction workers who come to her rescue more than once. More important, she begins to earn a modicum of trust among the patients. Through these vivid relationships, Rennie begins to see the world beyond her own self-involvement. King makes effective use of the first-person narrative. Because the patients are depicted through Rennie’s eyes, and she is unencumbered by the details of diagnosis and prognosis, they are portrayed with a visceral poignancy and compassion (“The women ran to the field like kids let out of school for summer vacation. They ran and shouted and argued and cheered, releasing pent up energy, laughing when someone hit a home run”).
An intriguing, sometimes-painful reminder of 1950s culture that offers enough bright spots to make this novel an enjoyable read.
— Kirkus Reviews
This is a story of love, disappointment, fear, and discovery . Both provoking and uplifting, it is a great read.
— Joanna Hill, author of Spiritual Law and Words of Gratitude
In King’s novel, Opening Gates, a summer job in a mental hospital mirrors the oppressive McCarthy era of the 1950's. In expert storytelling, unpredictable obstacles force Rennie to draw on inner resources, and her confining work opens gates in her personal life.
— William H. Abrashkin, former judge and American history enthusiast
Opening Gates opens up your mind, heart and soul. Highly recommended.
— 5 star review: Sherylon from the Kindle Book Review
Praise for Changing Spaces
A story that raises tricky questions about relationships between women and men, the longevity of family ties, and the friendship within literal and symbolic sisterhoods. A fast moving novel from King about a woman’s search for self.
— Kirkus Reviews
This character-driven novel is an emotionally satisfying read that shows it’s never too late for reinvention. With a cast of characters as colorful and inspiring as the setting, Changing Spaces, by Nancy King, is a heartwarming tale of a woman’s search to find a sense of self and independence late in life.
— FOREWORD Magazine
250 pages, $18.95
Fiction : General
Psychology : Mental Health
Social Science : Human Services