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Johnson (Persian Nights, 1987; Lying Low, 1978, etc.) has developed a didactic streak in her recent fiction; and, here, in a book about hospitals and doctors and patients, there's plenty to muse about, be instructed by, and analyze. Ivy Tarro is the maitresse d' of a trendy San Francisco restaurant, as well as a single and brand-new nursing mother--and When her arm swells unaccountably, she's hospitalized for tests, which lead to administration of a high-tech blood-thinning medication, which leads to a reversible but thoroughly harrowing stroke: an utterly avoidable event. The play of inevitability and avoidance is all over this book, as it deals in parallel, soap-opera-style fashion with the chief of service, Dr. Philip Watts (who falls in love with Ivy); and with a third triangulation point: an intelligent, educated employee of the hospital, Mimi, who's in awe of medicine and doctors and hospitals--even though her daily experience suggests to her that she should be otherwise (the hospital wants to buy her neighboring house, tear it down, and put up a parking lot). The sudsy: framework here is off-putting for quite a while--and there's the impression that Johnston is straining, not well, at some kind of demythologizing of modern medicine--but then the fiction kicks in, and the characters, Ivy and Dr. Watts, really do begin to grapple with helplessness and with apprehension of the body's treachery, both good and bad. As with all Johnson's work, intelligence is on display everywhere, and eventually real feeling too.

Pub Date: Sept. 21st, 1990
Publisher: Knopf