THE MAN BEHIND THE MASK by Thomas H. Mallory


Journey of an Orthopaedic Surgeon
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Tedious memoir of a retired physician.

Mallory’s recollections plod along through adolescence in 1950s Ohio, medical residency at Ohio State, cutting-edge work in hip replacement and his deepening Christian faith. About the early days of his marriage, he has nothing more interesting to impart than the fact that they were poor: “My bride and I were wrapped in blankets because the 1946 Ford I drove had no heater.” (Don’t worry; they eventually bought a big house and fancy cars.) A few details do humanize Mallory. He is frank, for example, about his desire to make money, and he freely admits he often didn’t spend enough time with his wife. But his workmanlike prose offers a textbook example for writing students of what not to do. Countless redundancies (“I was financially solvent”) and overblown adjectives (“profound,” “agonizing”) weigh down the text. Mallory manages to transform potentially revelatory moments, such as his discovery that the kindly surgeon directing his residency had end-stage cancer, into trite musings about “life’s uncertainties.” Show-don’t-tell may be overused advice, but it certainly applies here: Introducing a key story with a trite phrase like, “a tragic event occurred that affected me greatly,” is guaranteed to suck the life out of even the most powerful vignette. Extraneous reflections on (for instance) the importance of having a yard for the kids don’t serve the larger narrative—then again, it never really becomes clear what the larger narrative is. Most readers won’t make it to what is presumably intended to be the book’s emotional climax, when knee-replacement surgery and a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease show the great doctor what it’s like to be a patient.

Mallory may have been an important orthopedic surgeon, but he’s no Jerome Groopman.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-8262-1773-8
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Univ. of Missouri
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2007