A young doctor feels torn between big-city ambition and small-town roots in this melodramatic bildungsroman.
Hotshot neurosurgeon Kyle Williams has left his hometown of Jepson, W.Va., to pursue a high-powered career at Chicago’s Lakeshore University Hospital. But despite his pathbreaking research into brain tumors, city life seems hollow. Kyle hates the traffic, the yuppies and the brusque impersonality and poisonous intrigues at his hospital, where his department head despises him for his Appalachia roots. He’s also tired of bedding hardened bitch-goddesses like Kelly, an advertising exec who deploys skills she learned growing up in a whorehouse to land accounts. Returning home from the urban cesspool for his mother’s funeral, Kyle rediscovers Jepson as a rural paradise where people care for their neighbors, swill moonshine and generally â€œkn[o]w what it mean[s] to be human.” The doctors at the local clinic specialize in â€œthe blending of science with compassion” and â€œradiate pure joy” at the prospect of treating such salt-of-the-earth patients. Best of all, sex with Jenny–a nursing student whose â€œaura of simplicity and grace” remains undimmed as â€œher naked body slither[s] over [Kyle’s] oily back and buttocks”–is both â€œa part of the process of nature” and â€œa coalescence of two souls.” Jepson’s one flaw is a slight problem with senseless mayhem: Kyle’s father was a violent alcoholic, and a brief, unexplained incursion by marauders on horseback provides the novel’s tacked-on â€œthriller” element. Creaky plot contrivances keep Kyle vacillating between Chicago and Jepson, and Kelly and Jenny. Similarly, the author’s prose toggles between tawdry smarm and folksy uplift, both modes dull and clichÃ©d. What’s original is Evans’ neurological glossing of Kyle’s consciousness–â€œThe auditory stimulus raced to the audiovisual association area, recreating the image of the naked lady from the steamy shower, and the image was instantly provided with emotional embellishment from his amygdala, the portion of reptilian brain responsible for storing the emotional content of memory”–which occasionally injects the tone of a medical case study.
A medical would-be drama that’s DOA.