Murray, himself an MD, debuts with eight stories that draw their strengths from medicine and arcane subject matter.
The people and situations seem real, and the splashes of science and lingering nostalgia (“He will remember the sounds of the market through the open window. But it is the unopened letter that he will remember most clearly”) make for fiction that will appeal to fans of, say, Ethan Canin and The English Patient. The title story’s aging surgeon’s marriage to a much younger and eventually pregnant Indian doctor, Maya, serves as contrast to his grandfather’s obsession with butterflies, the largest species of which he will consume human flesh to obtain. But when the grandson begins to obsess too, will the old butterfly collection come along with the curse of the grandfather’s suicide and possibly interfere with the pregnancy? A young man in “All the Rivers in the World” journeys to Florida to retrieve his father, who has shacked up with a woman half his age, while “White Flour” is another wacky father-abandonment piece. “Watson and the Shark” concerns doctors in Africa tending to the knifed masses in an atrocity, and “The Carpenter who Looked Like a Boxer” finds a young cuckold hearing phantom termites in his house a year after his masochistic wife has left. The final story, “Acts of Memory, Wisdom of Man,” is another powerful patriarch doctor/bug setup, though this time the whole family is Indian and the bugs are beetles. Murray often refers to great writers but rarely pulls the stops and tries actually to write like them, even when it seems within his scope. “There are a thousand interesting facts about beetles, each of which teaches us something important about the nature of life,” the final father tells us. But this begs the question of Murray’s work: What happens when you take away all the fascinating factoids?
Well-practiced, from a voice we’ll surely hear from again.