Occasionally dour, often bizarre, and consistently profound medical tales.




The world of cosmetic surgery brims with outlandish patients and eccentric surgeons in this debut short story collection.

The unnamed narrator of the opening tale, “To the Dogs,” is a successful, wealthy plastic surgeon. But his fascination-turned-obsession with local vagrants prefaces a radical and unexpected change in the man’s life. In this insightful collection from Meronk, a retired oculoplastic surgeon, doctors typically find themselves in startling and/or comical predicaments, sometimes of their own volition. In “Amazon,” for example, Dr. Martin Olsen’s idea for advertising his business is to feed off an upcoming film about Amazon women. He believes the Amazons, who supposedly removed their right breasts to optimize archery skills, will inspire female patients to do the same, in defiance of gender norms. In other instances, a patient is the story’s catalyst. Helen Cogan of the eponymous tale wants Dr. Perry Troy to make her augmented breasts asymmetrical, which she considers aesthetically pleasing. But her husband disagrees and shows up at Troy’s office incensed and armed. Meronk’s denunciation of some aspects of cosmetic surgery is apparent; in “The Ten Year Old Head,” a doctor feels remorse over taking advantage of an insecure rich woman who was a habitual patient. But there’s no blanket condemnation of the industry, as the tales deftly center on all facets of the characters. “Smellers” is a refreshingly sweet love story that focuses on Dr. Jason Bittner and nurse Emma Carroll, who has hyperosmia—a heightened sense of smell. This ability has its benefits, like Emma’s telling Jason to skip the chicken salad (and avoid food poisoning), but may soon overburden their romance. Similarly, “Second Opinion” takes a farcical look at plastic surgery. In it, Arnold, a man “born with his head connected backwards,” wants a surgical modification. The intriguing tale pokes fun at not only doctors with drastically different plans for treatment, but also ludicrous acronyms (Arnold is an HBP: Head Backwards Person). Meronk employs terminology throughout that’s never extraneous or incoherent to novices.

Occasionally dour, often bizarre, and consistently profound medical tales.

Pub Date: June 4, 2018


Page Count: 185

Publisher: Plastic People Press

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

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A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed...

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Trying his final case at 85, celebrated criminal defense lawyer Sandy Stern defends a Nobel-winning doctor and longtime friend whose cancer wonder drug saved Stern's life but subsequently led to the deaths of others.

Federal prosecutors are charging the eminent doctor, Kiril Pafko, with murder, fraud, and insider trading. An Argentine émigré like Stern, Pafko is no angel. His counselor is certain he sold stock in the company that produced the drug, g-Livia, before users' deaths were reported. The 78-year-old Nobelist is a serial adulterer whose former and current lovers have strong ties to the case. Working for one final time alongside his daughter and proficient legal partner, Marta, who has announced she will close the firm and retire along with her father following the case, Stern must deal not only with "senior moments" before Chief Judge Sonya "Sonny" Klonsky, but also his physical frailty. While taking a deep dive into the ups and downs of a complicated big-time trial, Turow (Testimony, 2017, etc.) crafts a love letter to his profession through his elegiac appreciation of Stern, who has appeared in all his Kindle County novels. The grandly mannered attorney (his favorite response is "Just so") has dedicated himself to the law at great personal cost. But had he not spent so much of his life inside courtrooms, "He never would have known himself." With its bland prosecutors, frequent focus on technical details like "double-blind clinical trials," and lack of real surprises, the novel likely will disappoint some fans of legal thrillers. But this smoothly efficient book gains timely depth through its discussion of thorny moral issues raised by a drug that can extend a cancer sufferer's life expectancy at the risk of suddenly ending it.

A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed Innocent.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4813-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.


When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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