King (Overcoming Oppression, 2017, etc.) presents a memoir of triumph and tragedy.
The author begins by stating that he’s an unemployed, gay, African-American doctor and a “psychic empath.” In 2009, when this book begins, he was not doing well physically, financially, or socially—and he goes on to expound on all these facets of his existence in the pages that follow, which then leap back in time to events that happened well before the author’s birth, including the enslavement of his ancestors. The author spent the bulk of his childhood in Erie, Pennsylvania. His father was also a doctor, and his mother was a professor of mathematics. Although, by outward appearances, the family was successful and upwardly mobile, they were far from content in their circumstances. The author tells of facing immense racism in his daily life; he also says that his older brother would go out of his way to scare him as a child and that his parents “interrogated and chastised [him] for any imperfect behavior.” Nevertheless, the author was able to escape Erie for Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, then Harvard University, both as an undergraduate and a medical student. He then embarked on a career as a physician; in time, he discovered his sexuality, traveled to faraway places, married and divorced a woman whom he characterizes as overbearing, battled alcoholism, and dated a string of difficult men, including one who regularly flew into rages. Mixed into these accounts is a hefty amount of self-analysis as the author reflects on his attempts to obtain “perfection” and his belief in ingrained “slave-based behaviors.” He also states that he views the writing of this book as a form of healing.
Over the course of this revealing memoir, the author offers his readers some brutal details, including his experience as a victim of rape. However, later in the book, the author recalls his struggles in the medical field; these accounts include lengthy, vicious dialogues with superiors who claimed, for instance, that the author was taking too much time treating patients. But although King’s stories of his experiences as a physician certainly shed light on his character, his complaints about the profit-driven medical system eventually become repetitive and, at times, over-the-top, as when he asserts that “the chief operating officer and the medical director–CEO, are both mentally ill.” A great portion of this memoir, however, is devoted to the author’s long-term romantic relationships, and they include moments that range from the absurd to the tragic. He describes one especially cold partner as “reptilian” and “not what society can call ‘human’ ”; another had two adult sons who were so hyper-violent that they would be comical if they weren’t so terrifying. It will be difficult for anyone to read this entire memoir and not find themselves surprised on multiple occasions. So many elements of King’s recollections—particularly about his disastrous cohabitations—make this a truly unpredictable tale.
A strikingly honest, if occasionally repetitious, look at a unique life.