Kurtzman’s debut novel traces the evolution of a wary first-year medical student who becomes chief resident at a busy city hospital.
Many may believe the making of a doctor to be a tedious endeavor, but this notion will be quickly dispelled when readers become acquainted with Richard Grollman, an eccentric doctor-to-be with an affinity for opera. With wit and dark humor, Kurtzman’s descriptive dose of the day-to-day life of a medical student in the late 1950s details the challenges and rewards of the entire process. As Grollman progresses through his eight years of training, he experiences a number of trials and tribulations while surrounded by a cast of crazy surgeons and bumbling interns, before eventually discovering that he’s learned more than procedure and bedside manner. In his final act as chief medical resident, Grollman expounds upon his epiphany with his trademark cynicism: “Medicine is an elaborate masquerade in which the doctors pretend to cure while the patients pretend to get better.... Surgery is no more complicated than automobile repair and requires no more talent or ability. Knowing what to do and when to do it, or more importantly, when not to do it, is what counts.” By the novel’s conclusion, Kurtzman has presented readers with a thorough examination of the art of medicine and more than a few may be left pondering whether sometimes doing nothing may in fact be the best remedy. Although a familiarity with the medical field will engender a stronger connection to Kurztman’s work, it is not required. The book could benefit from another round of editing for brevity and excessively flowery language without detracting from its strengths: a zany point of view and black humor.
Holds its own alongside Samuel Shem’s The House of God, a highly regarded take on the life and times of medical students.