I loved this book. The stories are marvelous. They’re exceptional. They’re incredibly deftly written. Each story is a gem, as is the entire narrative.I loved this book. The stories are marvelous. They’re exceptional. They’re incredibly deftly written. Each story is a gem, as is the entire narrative.
Though I thoroughly enjoyed the book, it wasn’t a comfort read for me. In fact, all my hypochondriac tendencies and fears about my future health status were activated, but I loved the stories anyway, despite feeling sad, infuriated, and especially really scared at times while reading. It greatly helped that the compassionate nature of the writer continually shines through the pages.
I haven’t enjoyed a short story book as much since I read How to Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer. Although I’ve always enjoyed reading essays, but my usual preference is to read novels and full-length non-fiction books rather than short stories and books of short stories. However, these are intersecting stories, with characters that sometimes make appearances in different stories. The stories also somehow feel as if they’re part of one story, and in general they do follow a timeline, from young to old, from students to experienced medical doctors. The whole thing worked really well. I thought the stories fit together so well even before I got to the last story, and that last story solidified the job of tying all the stories together.
These stories are published as fiction but all along they read as truth to me, and the last story makes clear that each does have a huge non-fiction component. That’s why this book is on so many of my apparently contradictory shelves.
I love the quote that starts the book: “If you don’t care for obscenity, you don’t care for the truth.” (It’s by Tim O’Brien from How to Tell a War Story. I can’t find that book at Goodreads but I probably wouldn’t add it to my favorite quotes anyway, even though I really like the quote and it definitely fits this book.) One of my big quibbles with medicine, ever since I was aware, from eleven years old on, is the dishonestly. When it comes to medical matters I value honesty above all else. (I recently took a continuing education class about end of life care and was tempted to write a long rant in the feedback section to their contention that what is most important when treating a patient is hope. Not for myself it isn’t; it’s honesty.) I appreciate that she has worked in palliative care.
I loved the San Francisco settings. I could identify most of them and am familiar with some of them. I always enjoy books that I can put on my san-francisco shelf. This book makes wonderful use of the city, its medical facilities but also many other places.
I really appreciated how skillfully the relationships and communications and miscommunications were explored, from cross-cultural, to supervisor-supervisee, doctor-patient, between lovers and between friends, between group members, etc.
As I read these stories I couldn’t help but be aware of the following of my feelings/beliefs: Don't get sick. Don't get disabled. Don't get old if not in perfect health, and be wealthy, not poor. And perhaps: Don’t go into medicine, or be careful it’s your true calling if you do. I have physicians in my family and I’ve watched many in the process of dying, so I’d already thought a great deal about these matters, but reading this book has caused enough of a shift that I think I’ll be looking at death & dying and doctor-patient relationships slightly differently.
I’m always impressed by and frequently enjoy writing by physicians. On the back inside cover of the book, in the bio section, it says that “She is an associate professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, where she cares for older patients and directs the Northern California Geriatric Education Center and UCSF Medical Humanities.” She probably couldn’t have written this exact book without her medical training and practice, but it reads as a book written by a true writer, and I hope she writes and publishes more work. I’ll read it if she does....more