A generational family novel set against the backdrop of the burgeoning pharmaceutical industry.
Murrow’s debut, set in the mid-20th century, centers on the rise of big pharma and the marketing of the medical profession. In an inspired narrative decision, Murrow splits his story between two disparate perspectives. At the novel’s outset, George Parker takes a job as a sales representative for Wolfe-Davies Pharmaceuticals in Chicago, and young Jake Walton, having put himself through medical school, falls out with his stern father, a small-town doctor, and moves his wife and little son Ben to St. Louis. There, he takes a job as a physician for Wolfe-Davies' Medical Affairs Department. Parker’s rise through the company is accompanied by plenty of cynicism; at one point, an insider tells him, “The FDA never sees our experiments or interviews….The FDA only sees the language in the reports we choose to give them when we want their approvals to sell our drugs.” Jake’s introduction to the pharmaceutical world, however, is much more disillusioning; he almost immediately tells his wife that he feels immoral for giving his rubber stamp of approval to Wolfe-Davies products, despite legal risks; “people convicted of falsifying clinical data get prison sentences,” a soulless company hack says. “They’re basically forgers, and forgery is a felony.” Murrow expertly interweaves these two strands of the story together and fleshes them out by also giving readers a dramatic plotline involving a grown-up Ben in the Vietnam War. Murrow writes about the machinations of Parker and his fellow ladder-climbers at Wolfe-Davies with bare-knuckled eloquence. There are no legacies in the business world, one character says as the novel works its way to its touching climax: “People use money to hack trails through whatever’s between themselves and greater riches, and then those trails disappear just like empires, companies, and guys like us do.”
A complex, sobering read that lays bare the sordid, damaging compromises of the drug-manufacturing world.