IN THE NAME OF MERCY
Timely if flat euthanasia novel from Delbanco, head of the University of Michigan's writing program and author, mostly recently, of The Writers' Trade (1989). Weird things are going on in Lakeview, Michigan. Peter Julius, a young physician whose wife has recently died after a long and painful battle with cancer, has been put in charge of the Harley Andrews Hospice, a home for the terminally ill. Although the hospice is a charitable endeavor, endowed by a local millionaire, the notoriety surrounding that other Michigander, Dr. Kevorkian, has put it in the public eye. No one who enters as a patient comes out through the front door, and while this is not exactly a surprise, ugly rumors of pulled plugs and empty syringes start to circulate in town. When Rebecca Forsythe, the Derek Humphrey-like author of Death's Kingdom (a proeuthanasia tract), comes to the hospice to give a seminar on current medical approaches to death, even the staff begins to wonder: Has healing become synonymous with killing? Benefactor Harley Andrews himself has a bad heart and makes no secret either of his wish for a quick end or his fear that a low turnover rate will bankrupt the hospice. There are strange, anonymous letters to the editor of the local paper from a fundamentalist Christian who warns of "abominations" in town; an unhappy affair between Peter and Rebecca; a nurse who falls in love with an AIDS patient (who dies more quickly than anyone expects)--but all of it adds up not so much to a mystery as an essay, or an editorial. Delbanco is so leisurely in his narration that the climax comes as a surprise--not in how it falls together, but that it even takes place. The motive behind this work--i.e., how our understanding of health, life, and death is changing--is too strong for the story it's enclosed in, and ends by smothering it. Strangely dry and academic: more an exercise than a novel.