Competent but no more—and, of course, one always wants something beyond mere competence from a surgeon.

MONDAY MORNINGS

Standard-issue medical procedural from CNN medical correspondent and surgeon Gupta (Cheating Death, 2009). 

In this debut novel, Gupta commits some of the more common errors of Fiction 101 by telling more than showing, and then showing the mundane with as much attention as the distinctive. Thus the second sentence of the book: “Wearing bright blue polyester jumpsuits with a yellow insignia on the left front pocket and standard-issue black boots, they were moving fast.” Moving fast, check. But would it have mattered whether the uniforms were of green cotton, the badges red, the boots brown? The matter-of-factness and attention to every detail would probably serve a surgeon in theater very well, the purposes of a yarn less effectively; yet both qualities overwhelm the dramatic: “The aneurysm, a small blister on the surface of an artery, had suddenly let loose, spraying blood throughout her brain. She had likely felt a sudden thunderclap headache, and within seconds was rendered unconscious.” “One of the possible risks was damage to the olfactory nerve that ran near the cancerous growth. If that was nicked or cut, the patient would lose the sense of smell.” Just so, Gupta’s characters are of the stock variety: the hardbitten, arrogant master cutter, the encouraging mentor, the poor kid out to save the world ("the first Robidaux to consider college," the foreign resident who works twice as hard as everyone else—in short, the kind of people whom, mutatis mutandis, you’d send into combat in a World War II film, or, in this instance, into the emergency ward. In that regard, Gupta’s book makes its greatest contribution: It shows that a doctor’s life isn’t all glamour and golf on one hand or completely clinical on the other, even if most of the coitus is interruptus. All does not end well, not for certain patients and certain docs alike, but the quotidian world ticks on; it’s very much as if James Michener had attempted a medical thriller, though without the thrill and without Michener’s epic length. 

Competent but no more—and, of course, one always wants something beyond mere competence from a surgeon.

Pub Date: March 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-446-58385-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2012

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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