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Klass (Recombinations, 1985; the nonfiction A Not Entirely Benign Procedure, 1987) returns to fiction to try to capture the humor and wrenching pathos of being both a pediatrician and a mother--a woman searching for a way to balance her cool professional involvement with dying children against her powerful love for her own beautiful son. Amelia Stern is a dedicated young doctor, as devoted to her bright, healthy four-year-old and her handsome husband as she is to her job in a teaching hospital in Cambridge, Mass. She spends much of her free time trying to get her son Alexander into a good private school--a place where she hopes he will be appreciated, indulged, protected. Every day, however, she watches over the beds of very sick and dying children. Struggling to understand--and mercifully to shorten--the torturous dying of a three-year-old named Darren (mother dead of AIDS; father an IV-drug user), Amelia loses track of her marriage. Her husband leaves her in the wake of a minitrauma (their son is briefly hospitalized for infected chicken pox) when he perceives that Amelia seems to be completely distracted by the bigger, more tragic illnesses of other children. One brief affair aside, Ameila soothes her loneliness and confusion with a 19th-century fantasy life fueled by Little Women and a dash of Dickens (she interrupts her first-person narration with self-conscious bulletins declaring how hard it is to write about a child's death without being heavy-handed about contemporary AIDS-ridden Little Nells). In the end. a real-life AIDS child must die in the arms of his real-life father--and Amelia must learn to embrace the vulnerabilities of her real-life husband and child. A not entirely successful effort by a talented and intelligent writer. While Klass dispenses wonderful details about childhood and medicine, her overstuffed plot and slack pacing could have used more attendant care.

Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 1990
Publisher: Random House