A well-organized, smoothly presented blend of fact and fiction about a pioneering doctor.

Medical Man

A debut biographical novel examines the life of Canadian physician and surgeon Thomas Robert Ross, who practiced medicine in Alberta during the first half of the 20th century.

Webster attempts to realize the one unfulfilled ambition of Ross—to write his own history as a frontier doctor during a time marked simultaneously by rapid change in his chosen profession and the western expansion of Canada. For the basic story, the author has relied on the copious notes left behind by Ross and his wife, Jennie, including fragments of case histories, personal letters, and oral histories repeated by family, friends, and their descendants. From these, she weaves her own imaginative narrative showcasing Ross, a medical pioneer who leaves the busy cities in Quebec and Ontario behind for the southwestern plains of the new Alberta province, bringing with him his wife and two young sons. Through the invented conversations and musings of Ross and Jennie, Webster builds two complex primary characters. Ross, son of a Hudson Bay Company trader, possesses a temperament that’s suited to life on the vast empty expanses of mountains and, later, prairies. He is an exuberant, restless loner. In counterpoint is Jennie, a former school teacher, who suffers from more fragile health and bouts of depression. She finds the frequent moves of their first 20 years in Alberta, until they finally settle in the prairie town of Drumheller, challenging both physically and emotionally. But the background against which their personal saga plays turns out to be the most compelling aspect of this volume: the technological changes that move Ross from horseback to automobiles, two world wars that deliver home the wounded and the maimed, and the gradual introduction of medical breakthroughs that mark the first half of the century. These include the development of insulin for treating diabetes, the early use of vaccines, the improvements in operating-room disinfection (which Ross instituted in Coleman), and his work to improve techniques in bone surgery. Constant mining injuries (these are coal towns) also inspire Ross to revolutionize on-site treatment by creating first-aid brigades trained to stabilize miners before they make the arduous journey to the hospital.

A well-organized, smoothly presented blend of fact and fiction about a pioneering doctor.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4602-7877-2

Page Count: 402

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...

FIREFLY LANE

Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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