In Raffer’s debut novel, a man undergoes treatment for a life-threatening cancer and searches for his birth family.
It’s 1946 in New York City, and a young woman beset by tragedy makes the difficult decision to give up her son for adoption. The child, named Ken by his adoptive parents, grows up to become a well-respected doctor with a successful California private practice, a lovely wife and several children. As he ages, he longs to contact his birth parents, but his adoption records are sealed. When a strange rash appears on his skin later in life, he initially dismisses it; when he finally seeks medical treatment, it’s diagnosed as a rare form of cancer. Back in New York, Ken’s birth mother has built a life of her own, but she’s often troubled by thoughts of the child she gave up. Unbeknownst to her and her grown daughter, Sharon, Ken is in dire need of a stem cell transplant. Will the two families find each other in time to save Ken’s life? The author, a neurologist, draws on his own medical experience to scrupulously explain each aspect of Ken’s treatment, and readers with some understanding of science will likely enjoy this painstaking approach. Others, however, may find the technical discussions abstruse and yearn for a less clinical, more emotional treatment of the protagonist’s predicament. Raffer’s approach extends to his character’s lives as well, but often, the amount of detail becomes excessive and interferes with the plot. The novel jumps back and forth in time repeatedly to tell the full story of Ken and his biological family, with the majority of the novel devoted to Ken’s predicament. The members of Ken’s birth family, though richly described, often feel more like plot devices than fully formed supporting characters. In general, the heavy focus on his cancer treatment means that he, too, reads less like a complete human being than as a device for explicating a rare medical condition.
A unique and informative, if not compelling, story hampered by too many