First-time author Aronson calls on her experience as a professor of medicine for this collection of short stories, which take place in and around a San Francisco hospital. But the stories are less concerned with medical details than with the inner lives of the characters and the psychological toll that health issues take on caregivers, patients and their families.
The best story here, “Becoming a Doctor,” is about an internship; its brief episodes give glimpses of the life-changing experiences a young doctor might encounter, from impulsive love affairs to the first sighting of medical horrors. Call it a less cute, more truthful version of Grey’s Anatomy. In “Giving Good Death,” a doctor serves prison time for malpractice, and Aronson focuses on his failed connection with the psychiatrist handling his case. “Vital Signs Stable” concerns a 98-year-old patient who does not die during the story; but the effect of her illness on her family makes the story haunting. At times, Aronson tweaks the narrative format to make a point: In “Blurred Boundary Disorder,” the footnotes overwhelm the main text, illustrating the condition of the title. Some of these stories are stronger than others, and a few could use a more compelling plot: In “Heart Failure,” a workaholic doctor fails to respond to her neglected daughter’s increasingly urgent outbursts, but the final outcome feels anticlimactic.
It’s the tense atmospheres that Aronson creates, and her empathy for her characters, that make this a promising debut.