LIGHTNING IN JULY by Ann L. McLaughlin


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The 61-year-old McLaughlin's first novel--an autobiographical, workmanlike account of survival and love set in 1955 in the last polio ward in the US--is limited in scope but valuable for its historical detail and its testimony. The narrative follows the lives of two people stricken by the last epidemic of the disease before the perfection of the Salk vaccine. It goes back and forth between Dan, a doctoral student in history, and Hally, a flutist. Dan's disease takes the form of general paralysis while Hally's settles into her throat. Much authentic hospital detail makes clear the suffering involved for patients and hospital staff when a diagnosis of the disease's progress must be tentative, when there is a lack of any effective medication, and when there aren't even enough respirators to go around. Dan and Hally, of course, meet in the wards: ""I'm glad we got polio together. . .I mean if we had to get it at all."" Hally, once she recovers from the worst, goes mobile and tours the hospital--the rocking beds, the respirator tanks--and, predictably, feels lucky. She falls in love with Dan, and the two become engaged. The story then unsentimentally relates the difficulties and the couple's attempts to face up to problems: questions about sex, the emotional and psychological convalescence that must accompany physical therapy, parental apprehension, and the inevitable self-absorption of two ambitious, talented people trying to get back on their feet. Dan, hurt when Hally appears self-involved in her own crisis (the necessity to give up flute for the piano) instead of appreciative of his progress in ""the learned stages of his walk,"" crumples over when he tries too much. The upbeat ending follows: Dan's thesis proposal, Hally's piano lessons, and a decision to marry immediately when they lose a friend to the disease. One that belongs on the bookshelf of upbeat, inspirational witness.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1989
ISBN: 0936784725
Publisher: John Daniel