A debut novel chronicles the ups and downs of a young doctor’s four-year residency.
Hirsch (Obstetrics and Gynecology/Univ. of Chicago) paints a detailed portrait of Robert Montefiore, an eager but unlucky postgraduate OB/GYN resident at the Chicago School of Medicine’s Women’s Hospital. Robert’s first year, especially, is a real trial by fire: his first solo delivery is a Russian immigrant’s 14-pound baby; he counsels a 16-year-old girl with gonorrhea and pelvic inflammatory disease; and a patient dies suddenly after a routine hysterectomy. Despite his exhaustion, he still doggedly pursues Maggie, the younger cousin of his best friend, Larry Lassker. Alas, their two dates over bagels end in varying degrees of disaster. When Maggie leaves for a year at a rural medical clinic in Bolivia, Larry proposes a Cyrano de Bergerac–type scenario: he’ll help Robert woo her by letter in exchange for collaboration on a medical study. As it happens, Robert can handle romantic correspondence and the development of a mouse model of infection-induced preterm delivery just fine on his own. Nonetheless, Larry remains a cheery wisecracker who delivers some amusing lines like “Women! Can’t live with ’em, can’t be a gynecologist without ’em.” The lively, warmhearted novel is peopled with vibrant secondary characters, including foulmouthed Dr. Spivey, Betty the omniscient secretary, and Robert’s sometimes-nemesis, Lou Harrimon. Hirsch achieves a nice balance between medical procedures, raunchy set pieces (enormous genital warts and sustained confusion between “penal” and “penile”), romance, and humor. Even a midvolume tragedy doesn’t wholly dampen the light tone—the wrong corpse turns up at a memorial service. Chapters from other characters’ perspectives draw attention away from Robert, whose story might have been better suited to a first-person narrative. On the other hand, the ensemble cast is among the work’s greatest strengths; even minor figures pop up to offer quaint advice—resident Mary Pickett insists lunch is the key to survival, and residency director Pat MacGregor praises shortbread as lifesaving in a crisis. An emergency breech delivery climactically bookends the novel’s action.
Thanks to a sympathetic, hapless protagonist and his Scrubs-like backup team, this engaging tale sparkles.