RITUALS OF SURGERY by Richard Seizer


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A collection of short stories that only a doctor could have written or, perhaps, even been tempted to write -- although Landolfi has a similar feel for the aesthetics of disease, and the elegantly revulsed humor is distinctly Nabokovian. But these two would be congenial models since their literary mood is close to the state of mind that a medical practice apparently induces. That, anyway, is the indication here. Apart from the damage to normal relationships (a doctor goes to a call girl and finds a lump, in one epitomal story) there is the constant compulsion to form abnormal ones. In story after story the doctor-protagonist (or an omniscient narrator with medical expertise) confronts baroque outrages of pathology and tries to bridge them; the problems of the patient's dignity and the doctor's own clinical fascination are acutely perceived even if most of the stories end in a sentimental reversal. (A spastic arduously types out stylish love letters -- to Joan Crawford, and that's the point.) A kind of fatalism crowds the edges, and not only in practical affairs -- gruesome moments in medical history, a theme that recurs here like a nightmare, cast doubt on the profession itself, and the cynicism is easily extended to society and mores which come in for some flip and flashy cutting. But a few stories like the long showpiece ""Korea"" have real somatic drag and depth, as well as Selzer's characteristic polish. It is like the glint of little instruments.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1974
Publisher: Harper's Magazine Press