Debut novel by a former medical writer examines the challenges of healing injuries both mental and physical.
Simon Bear is a towering man filled with confidence and good will. His patients adore him (he proudly keeps a file of their thank-you letters) and refer to him as Dr. Feelgood for his willingness to prescribe narcotics. The novel opens as he gives an orientation to a nurse he’s just hired; Ledger juxtaposes Simon’s eager, magnanimous approach to practicing medicine with the nurse’s pinched disapproval of his arrogant disregard for conventional guidelines. Wife Emily is a powerhouse in public relations, but neither spouse seems able to transfer professional success to parenting—13-year-old Jamie is sulky and often alone in their Baltimore mansion. Simon’s obsessive desire to alleviate suffering and Emily’s iciness with Jamie can be traced back to the death of six-week-old Caleb 15 years earlier. The baby died of meningitis, Simon was unable to save his son and Emily is unable to heal; the couple’s personal life is a silence-riddled mess. When Simon stumbles upon a cure for chronic pain that is non-addictive and has few side effects, he sees his chance at redemption for himself and his patients, as well as a means of luring Emily back to their marriage. But it’s too late. Emily has begun an affair with an old boyfriend, the antithesis of Simon, who allows her to forget the pain of Caleb’s death and return to a time when the future was unwritten. Ledger makes medical science interesting and accessible, but her triumph is the creation of Simon, a deeply flawed and magnetic character.
Complex, nuanced and engrossing portrait of a doctor’s life.