The Heart Principle

Helen Hoang



This is the last time I'm starting over.

That's what I tell myself, anyway. I mean it every time. But then, every time, something happens-I make a mistake, I know I can do better, or I hear, in my head, what people will say.

So I stop and go back to the beginning, to get it right this time. And it's really the last time this time.

Except it isn't.

I've spent the past six months doing this, going over the same measures again and again like a rhinoceros pacing figure eights at the zoo. These notes don't even make sense to me anymore. But I keep trying. Until my fingers hurt and my back aches and my wrist throbs with every pull of the bow on the strings. I ignore it all and give the music everything I have. Only when the timer goes off do I lower my violin from my chin.

My head is spinning, and I'm parched with thirst. I must have turned my lunch alarm off and forgotten to actually eat. That happens a lot more often than I care to admit. If it weren't for the zillions of alarms on my phone, I might have accidentally ended myself by now. It's out of consideration for life that I don't keep any plants. I do have a pet. He's a rock. His name is, very creatively, Rock.

The alarm notification on my phone screen says THERAPY, and I turn it off with a grimace. Some people enjoy therapy. It's venting and validation for them. For me, it's exhausting work. It doesn't help that I think my therapist secretly dislikes me.

Still, I drag myself into my bedroom to change. Attempting to muddle through things on my own hasn't helped, so I'm determined to give this therapy thing a try. My parents would be disgusted by the waste of money if they knew, but I'm desperate and they can't mourn dollars they don't know I'm spending. I remove the pajamas that I've been wearing all day and pull on exercise clothes that I don't plan to exercise in. Somehow, these are considered more appropriate in public even though they're more revealing. I don't question why people do things. I just observe and copy. That's how to get along in this world.

Outside, the air smells of car exhaust and restaurant cooking, and people are out and about, bicycling, shopping, catching late lunches at the cafŽs. I navigate the steep streets and weave through the pedestrians, wondering if any of these people are going to the symphony tonight. They're playing Vivaldi, my favorite. Without me.

I took a leave of absence because I can't perform when I'm stuck playing in loops like this. I haven't told my family because I know they wouldn't understand. They'd tell me to quit indulging myself and snap out of it. Tough love is our way.

Being tough on myself isn't working now, though. I can't try harder than I already am.

When I reach the modest little building where my therapist and other mental health professionals have their practices, I key in the code 222, let myself in, and walk up the musty stairs to the second floor. There's no receptionist or sitting room, so I go straight to room 2A. I lift my fist toward the door but hesitate before making contact. A quick glance at my phone reveals it's 1:58 p.m. Yes, I'm two minutes early.

I shift my weight from foot to foot, uncertain what to do. Everyone knows that being late isn't good, but being early isn't great either. Once, when I showed up early to a party, I literally caught the host with his pants down. And his girlfriend's face in his crotch. That wasn't fun for any of us.

Obviously, the best time to arrive somewhere is right on time.

So I stand here, tormented with indecision. Should I knock or should I wait? If I knock early, what if I inconvenience her somehow and she's annoyed with me? On the other hand, if I wait, what if she gets up to go to the bathroom and catches me standing outside her door grinning creepily? I don't have enough information, but I try to think of what she'll think and modify my actions accordingly. I want to make the "correct" decision.

I check my phone repeatedly, and when the time reads 2:00 p.m., I exhale in relief and knock. Three times firmly, like I mean it.

My therapist opens the door and greets me with a smile and no handshake. There's never a handshake. It confused me in the beginning, but now that I know what to expect, I like it.

"It's so good to see you, Anna. Come on in. Make yourself comfortable." She motions for me to enter and then waves at the cups and hot water heater on the counter. "Tea? Water?"

I get myself a cup of tea because that seems to be what she wants and set it on the coffee table to steep before I sit in the middle of the sofa across from her armchair. Her name is Jennifer Aniston, by the way. No, she's not that Jennifer Aniston. I don't think she's ever been on TV or dated Brad Pitt, but she's tall and, in my opinion, attractive. She's in her mid-fifties is my guess, on the thin side, and always wears moccasins and handmade jewelry. Her long hair is a sandy brown threaded with gray, and her eyes . . . I can't remember what color they are even though I was just looking at her. It's because I focus in between people's eyes. Eye contact scrambles my brain so I can't think, and this is a handy trick to make it look like I'm doing what I should. Ask me what her moccasins look like.

"Thank you for seeing me," I say because I'm supposed to act grateful. The fact that I actually am grateful isn't the point, but it's true nonetheless. To add extra emphasis, I smile my warmest smile, making sure to wrinkle the corners of my eyes. I've practiced this in a mirror enough times that I'm confident it looks right. Her answering smile confirms it.

"Of course," she says, pressing a hand over her heart to show how touched she is.

I do wonder if she's acting just like I am. How much of what people say is genuine and how much is politeness? Is anyone really living their life or are we all reading lines from a giant script written by other people?

It starts then, the recap of my week, how have I been, have I made any breakthroughs with my work. I explain in neutral terms that nothing has changed. Everything was the same this week as the week before, just as that week was the same as the week before it. My days are essentially identical to one another. I wake up, I have coffee and half a bagel, and I practice violin until the various alarms on my phone tell me to stop. An hour on scales, and four on music. Every day. But I make no progress. I get to the fourth page in this piece by Max Richter-when I'm lucky-and I start over. And I start over. And I start over. Over and over and over again.

It's challenging for me to talk about these things with Jennifer, especially without letting my frustration leak out. She's my therapist, which means, in my mind, that she's supposed to be helping me. And she hasn't been able to, as far as I can tell. But I don't want her to feel bad. People like me better when I make them feel good about themselves. So I'm constantly assessing her reaction and editing my words to appeal to her.

When a deep frown mars her face at my lackluster description of the past week, I panic and say, "I feel like I'm close to getting better." That's an outright lie, but it's for a good cause because her expression immediately lightens up.

"I'm so happy to hear that," Jennifer says.

I smile at her, but I feel slightly queasy. I don't like lying. I do it all the time, though. The harmless little lies that make people feel nice. They're essential for getting along in society.

"Can you try skipping to the middle of the piece that you're struggling with?" she asks.

I physically recoil at the suggestion. "I have to start at the beginning. That's just what you do. If the song was meant to be played from the middle, that part would be at the beginning."

"I understand, but this might help you get past your mental block," she points out.

All I can do is shake my head, even though inside I'm wincing. I know I'm not acting the way she wants, and that feels wrong.

She sighs. "Doing the same thing over and over hasn't solved the problem, so maybe it's time to try something different."

"But I can't skip the beginning. If I can't get it right, then I don't deserve to play the next part, and I don't deserve to play the ending," I say, conviction in every word.

"What is this about deserving? It's a song. It's meant to be played in whatever order you want. It doesn't judge you."

"But people will," I whisper.

And there it is. We always come to this one sticking point. I look down at my hands and find my fingers white-knuckled together like I'm pushing myself down and holding myself up at the same time.

"You're an artist, and art is subjective," Jennifer says. "You have to learn to stop listening to what people say."

"I know."

"How were you able to play before? What was your mindset then?" she asks, and by "before" I know she means before I accidentally became Internet famous and my career took off and I went on an international tour and got a record deal and modern composer Max Richter wrote a piece just for me, an honor like nothing else in the whole world.

Every time I try to play that piece as well as it deserves-as well as everyone expects me to, because I'm some kind of musical prodigy now, even though I was only considered adequate in the past-every time, I fail.

"Before, I played just because I loved it," I say finally. "No one cared about me. No one even knew I existed. Other than my family and boyfriend and coworkers and such. And I was fine with that. I liked that. Now . . . people have expectations, and I can't stand knowing that I might disappoint them."

"You will disappoint people," Jennifer says in a firm but not unkind voice. "But you'll also blow others away. That's just how this works."

"I know," I say. And I really do understand, logically. But emotionally, it's another matter. I'm terrified that if I slip, if I fail, everyone will stop loving me, and where will I be then?

"I think you've forgotten why you play," she says gently. "Or more precisely, who you play for."

I take and release a deep breath and unclasp my hands to give my stiff fingers a break. "You're right. I haven't played for my own enjoyment in a long time. I'll try to do that," I say, offering her an optimistic smile. In my heart, however, I know what will happen when I try. I will get lost playing in loops. Because nothing is good enough now. No, "good enough" isn't right. I must be more than "good enough." I must be dazzling. I wish I knew how to dazzle at will.

For a second, it looks like she's going to say something, but she ends up touching a finger to her chin instead as she tilts her head to the side, looking at me from a new angle. "Why do you do that?" She points to her own eyes. "That thing with your eyes?"

My face blanches. I can feel my skin flashing hot and then going cold and stiff as all expression melts away. "What thing?"

"The eye wrinkling," she says.

I've been caught.

I don't know how I should react. This hasn't happened to me before. I wish I could melt into the floor or squeeze myself into one of her cupboards and hold the door shut. "Smiles are real when they reach your eyes. Books say so," I admit.

"Are there lots of things that you do like that, things that you read about in books or have seen other people do so you copy them?" she asks.

I swallow uncomfortably. "Maybe."

Her expression turns thoughtful, and she scribbles something down on her notepad. I try to see what she's written without looking like I'm peeking, but I can't make anything out.

"Why does it matter?" I ask.

She considers me for a moment before saying, "It's a form of masking."

"What's masking?"

Speaking haltingly, like she's choosing her words, she says, "It's when someone takes on mannerisms that aren't natural to them so they can better fit in with society. Does that resonate with you?"

"Is it bad if it does?" I ask, unable to keep the uneasiness from my voice. I don't like where this is going.

"It's not good or bad. It's just the way things are. I'll be able to help you better if I have a clearer understanding of how your mind works." She pauses then and sets her pen down before forging ahead to say, "A lot of the time, I believe you tell me things just because you think that's what I want to hear. I hope you can see how counterproductive that would be in therapy."

My desire to crawl into her cupboard intensifies. I used to hide in tight places like that when I was little. I only stopped because my parents kept finding me and dragging me out to whatever chaotic event they had going on: parties, big dinners with our enormous extended family, school concerts, things that required me to wear itchy tights and a scratchy dress and sit still in silent suffering.

Jennifer sets her notepad aside and crosses her hands in her lap. "Our time is up, but for this next week, I'd like you to try something new."

"Skipping to the middle and playing something fun," I say. I always remember her to-do items, even when I know I won't actually do them.

"Those would be great things to do if you could," she says with an earnest smile. "But there's something else." Leaning forward and watching me intently, she adds, "I'd like you to watch what you're doing and saying, and if it's something that doesn't feel right and true to who you are, if it's something that exhausts you or makes you unhappy, take a look at why you're doing it. And if there isn't a good reason . . . try not doing it."
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"A fiercely anticipated third release from the adored author of romances
The Kiss Quotient and
The Bride Test... If Hoang's previous successes prove anything,
The Heart Principle will be a joy."—

"[Hoang is] a consummate wordsmith of soulful romances, with soft, honest-to-goodness love stories paired with euphoric steaminess."—NPR

"There’s something about the way that Hoang writes her characters. They’re fully fleshed, vulnerable, sexual, and full of potential, and her newest novel proves no different."—
Real Simple

“Sensitive and sweet,
The Heart Principle—a worthy follow-up to Hoang’s 2019 novel
The Bride Test— explores a burgeoning romance built on undeniable chemistry.” —TIME

"The Heart Principle is riveting the whole way through, exploring a complex range of subjects in unique and interesting ways."—
Associated Press

"The author shows that romance can bloom in unexpected ways and reminds readers that happily-ever-after endings are different for everyone."—Shelf Awareness


Verkaufsrang 3313
Einband Taschenbuch
Erscheinungsdatum 01.09.2021
Verlag Penguin LCC US
Seitenzahl 352
Maße 20,7/13,8/2,6 cm
Gewicht 291 g
Sprache Englisch
ISBN 978-0-451-49084-1


1 Bewertungen

von einer Kundin/einem Kunden aus Zwettl am 20.09.2021

Ich hatte mich wirklich gefreut nach 2 Jahren warten, endlich den Teil 3 zu lesen. Leider geht es wenig um die bereits bekannten Charaktere. Als Love Story würde ich das Buch nicht bezeichnen. Es geht mind. die Hälfe des Buches um schwere Themen wie Burn Out, Depression, Krankheiten wie Krebs und Schlaganfall, überfordernde Pf... Ich hatte mich wirklich gefreut nach 2 Jahren warten, endlich den Teil 3 zu lesen. Leider geht es wenig um die bereits bekannten Charaktere. Als Love Story würde ich das Buch nicht bezeichnen. Es geht mind. die Hälfe des Buches um schwere Themen wie Burn Out, Depression, Krankheiten wie Krebs und Schlaganfall, überfordernde Pflege eines Familienmitglieds + Tod schade... ich hätte mich wirklich gefreut auf das Buch, es war aber leider gar nicht der erwartete lustig-leichte Liebesroman mit bekannten Charakteren.

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