Superbly skilled writer/surgeon Selzer (Imagine a Woman, 1990, etc.) cracks open his psyche's sternum, showing us his heart repairs, then goes about sewing up the wounds while they are still dotted with blood. Now 64, Selzer didn't start writing seriously until he was 40, then retired at 58 to write full time. He finds many likenesses between surgery and writing: ``Writing, like doctoring, has nothing to do with cleverness. It is all diagnosis and feeling....'' His father and mother dominate this memoir, and he's greatly happy that he has fulfilled both their dreams. His mother, a singer forever bursting into arias around the house (even as Selzer here bursts into warblings and subtly shaded songs about yellow meadows of fat and maroon- and salmon-colored inner organs), wanted him to be an artist; his father, a general practitioner, took young Selzer around with him on his house calls and inducted him into the healing art. Much of what Selzer remembers here takes place in his hometown of Troy, N.Y., where prostitution flourished as a leading business during the Depression. Selzer's father doctored to the whores at the Selzer home, and after his death Selzer heard from an aunt that his father was a great womanizer with these clients. In fact, only after his parents' deaths has Selzer faced many family skeletons. His mother's death at 88 and burial in the rain is movingly told: ``There was the trench, like a socket from which the tooth had been pulled. Then the ancient spectacle, full of murmuring and slow gestures. The village of black umbrellas.'' It's his widower mother's attractiveness to suitors that frees Selzer to show us her history as a teenage waterfront songstress, with hints of darker, more reckless days. A marvel as Selzer gives every pain its name--though his nonreading mother called his books all lies.