Mills’ (The Parts That Followed, 2014, etc.) third novel uses four interweaving narratives to tell the story of mysterious medical malpractice at Kendal Slate Memorial Hospital.
Dale Reichter’s beloved wife, Cindy, suddenly develops an aggressive form of cancer after a routine hysterectomy at Kendal Slate. She dies within months of the surgery, leaving Dale devastated and suspicious of the hospital staff. Meanwhile, Emma Speck suffers from a fibroid that doctors insist is benign, but she also undergoes a straightforward hysterectomy when the fibroid becomes painful, only to develop cancerous symptoms similar to Cindy’s that she and her husband, Russell, must face together. Addison and Keith have been trying to start a family, but after multiple miscarriages, a life-threatening pregnancy, and an endometriosis diagnosis, Addison plans to have a hysterectomy that will stop her pain, even though it will also end her ability to conceive. At the same time, Dr. Richard Oakley, the chair of the surgical department at Kendal Slate, handles complaints from his patients with little sensitivity while ignoring his own mounting problems at home. All parties individually begin to investigate these routine surgeries gone horribly wrong and discover that the cancer is the result of a common surgical technique called morcellation, which breaks up growths into small pieces, which then develop into aggressive leiomyosarcoma tumors. All four lives intertwine as they find common ground in their personal battles against this alarming discovery. Mills offers an empathetic and engaging medical novel that’s deeply rooted in its characters and their experiences, illustrating the ways in which cancer can break apart but also unite families. Its focus on women, and women’s health in particular, is a crucial centerpiece. In Richard, the author successfully develops a jaded and despicable villain, counterbalancing him with the loving personae of Dale, Emma, and Addison. However, the novel could be perhaps 100 pages shorter, as all four storylines feel unnecessarily long. The lengthy individual narratives often cause the plot to lack forward movement for chapters at a time, creating an overall effect of drawn-out tedium.
A compassionate but excessively slow cancer story.