THE TINCTURE OF TIME by Elizabeth L. Silver


A Memoir of (Medical) Uncertainty
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A mother’s uncertainty about her baby daughter’s medical care pervades this unsettling memoir.

Silver (The Execution of Noa P. Singleton, 2014) is both a novelist and an attorney, occupations that provide different perspectives on her plight as a concerned parent. A few weeks after birth, her daughter, Abby, inexplicably began showing symptoms of a seizure, perhaps a prelude to something worse. She then developed an alarming fever, which left almost as quickly and inexplicably as it arrived. To the various physicians who examined her, she was “a self-contained enigma, despite a hefty team of specialists offering varied hypotheses.” The author herself was surrounded by doctors—her father, her husband, and others—but she came to see how inexact a science medicine could be. For the creative writer, “this is quickly becoming a story that has nothing to do with grief or planning for grief, or treatment to combat an illness, but rather coping with the uncertainty of health in the dense fog of evolving medicine.” For an attorney experienced in cases of medical malpractice and whose father found his career threatened by an unfounded claim, Silver felt beleaguered by questions that implied guilt or blame—as if she did something to her daughter, dropped her or shook her, and either wouldn’t admit it or couldn’t remember it. Memory itself becomes a reflection of universal uncertainty, as does the disappearance of a Malaysian airliner, Waiting for Godot, and Hamlet’s “To be or not to be.” Ultimately, the author attempts “to control my surroundings as best I can without losing semblance of self, without stopping life, without changing behavior to a point of invisibility. And I create a narrative that evolves daily.” Readers will share Silver’s unease with uncertainty.

The attempt to balance personal trauma with wider cultural reference is a tricky challenge, but this will resonate with anyone who has experienced diagnostic difficulties.

Pub Date: April 25th, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-101-98144-3
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Penguin Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2017


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