Elysia is the sequel to The George Washington Constellation. In Elysia, Senator Buckthorn’s daughter, Dr. Lizzy Buckthorn, completes her psychiatric residency at Stanford and begins her work at a large regional hospital in the Oklahoma Panhandle. Lizzy is a brilliant young doctor but new to the demands of a state hospital and the rural population it serves. She also happens to have lost an arm to cancer as a child and is subject to the prejudices of a community that is not used to a woman psychiatrist, much less a disabled one. Her patients include a priest who has lost his religious beliefs, an older couple that has lost sexual intimacy, and a mother who blames herself for the loss of her young girls in an auto accident. Her close friend also struggles with an unexpected pregnancy. With time and determination, Lizzy learns to help patients achieve what Lizzy believes is most important: self-acceptance. She also has to deal with her most difficult and painful patient, a teenage boy struggling to find himself under the domineering presence of his conservative minister father.
To understand Lizzy, it’s helpful to consider this excerpt:
"She had grown up with people underestimating her. She was so young, only five, when her left arm was amputated a few inches above the elbow. She could barely remember what it was like to have two arms. One memory sometimes came back in the night when she was falling asleep. She was in her room with her dolls and stuffed animals arranged in a semi-circle in front of her. They were an orchestra playing Christmas music and she was the conductor, waving her arms to keep them in time. That was the last time she could remember her left arm, pointing to the giraffe, demanding that he keep up.
In those early years, she was so glaringly different that it was impossible not to be self-conscious. Making fun of the girl with one arm. It came naturally to five year olds and many of the older kids, too. At some point, she couldn’t recall when, the stares no longer bothered her. It was as if she had crossed a divide: the great self-image frontier. On one side was self-consciousness, embarrassment, even self-hatred. On the other was self-acceptance. How did she get across the boundary? How does anyone get across it? She thought about this question all through college, all through medical school. She became interested in psychology as an undergraduate. She took the classes that were available, then did research on her own. Self-acceptance, how does it happen? She wanted to understand the answer as completely as possible. More than anything, that single question had made her want to treat illnesses of the mind."