Funny yet moving, a midlife crisis tale with all the elements of a TV movie of the week.

AMBULANCE GIRL

HOW I SAVED MYSELF BY BECOMING AN EMT

A witty, self-deprecating account of how becoming a volunteer emergency medical technician transformed a reclusive, depressed hypochondriac into a vibrant whole woman.

Co-author with husband Michael of numerous books on food and pop culture (Dog Eat Dog, 1997, etc.), a columnist for Gourmet magazine, and a contributor to NPR’s The Splendid Table, Stern at age 52 appeared to be a woman of accomplishment. She describes herself, though, as clinically depressed, claustrophobic, and floored by panic attacks. Her decision to become an EMT was, she says, a spur-of-the-moment act, taken after a couple of months of psychotherapy and treatment with antidepressants. It also seems driven by the desire of this urbane, well-traveled outsider to become an accepted part of her largely blue-collar New England community. During months of thrice-a-week classes, mostly with fit young firemen and police trainees, overweight, overage, and overeducated Stern struggled hard to fit in, at times losing her dignity, but not her sense of humor. Once certified as an EMT, she faces some real-life tests. The claustrophobic writer dreads riding in the back of the ambulance, but of course she must, and with a couple of drunken, bleeding motorcyclists to care for she doesn’t have time to be afraid. Her fear of dead people is challenged when she is confronted with her first corpse: fat, naked, blue, and covered with Cheerios. And on it goes, through fires, accidents, and domestic crises, until the day Stern sees someone she knows become a virtual vegetable after an EMT rescue. Questioning the value of heroic saves, she begins again to sink into depression, coming out of her funk only after the events of 9/11 make her see rescue workers as a noble brotherhood. In the end, she achieves her goal and closes her account of self-transformation with the joyous announcement: “I am a part of something at last.”

Funny yet moving, a midlife crisis tale with all the elements of a TV movie of the week.

Pub Date: June 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-4000-4832-X

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion’s earlier...

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

  • National Book Award Winner

  • National Book Critics Circle Finalist

THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING

A moving record of Didion’s effort to survive the death of her husband and the near-fatal illness of her only daughter.

In late December 2003, Didion (Where I Was From, 2003, etc.) saw her daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne, hospitalized with a severe case of pneumonia, the lingering effects of which would threaten the young woman’s life for several months to come. As her daughter struggled in a New York ICU, Didion’s husband, John Gregory Dunne, suffered a massive heart attack and died on the night of December 30, 2003. For 40 years, Didion and Dunne shared their lives and work in a marriage of remarkable intimacy and endurance. In the wake of Dunne’s death, Didion found herself unable to accept her loss. By “magical thinking,” Didion refers to the ruses of self-deception through which the bereaved seek to shield themselves from grief—being unwilling, for example, to donate a dead husband’s clothes because of the tacit awareness that it would mean acknowledging his final departure. As a poignant and ultimately doomed effort to deny reality through fiction, that magical thinking has much in common with the delusions Didion has chronicled in her several previous collections of essays. But perhaps because it is a work of such intense personal emotion, this memoir lacks the mordant bite of her earlier work. In the classics Slouching Toward Bethlehem (1968) and The White Album (1979), Didion linked her personal anxieties to her withering dissection of a misguided culture prey to its own self-gratifying fantasies. This latest work concentrates almost entirely on the author’s personal suffering and confusion—even her husband and daughter make but fleeting appearances—without connecting them to the larger public delusions that have been her special terrain.

A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion’s earlier writing.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-4314-X

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2005

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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