Winner of the 2006 Giller Prize, Lam has assembled a collection of short stories that follows four characters from their student days, through medical school and into their careers as doctors. Ming is a perfectionist with a dark past and overbearing traditional parents. When she starts dating Fitz, she must keep it a secret from her family. Meanwhile, Chen and Sri, their closest colleagues, join them in cutting up cadavers as they learn the fragile mysteries of the human body. Lams prose reads as smoothly as a scalpel slicing flesh (despite a plethora of technical jargon) as he reveals the realities of operating and emergency rooms, air ambulance flights and maternity wards. Lam is capable of fine descriptions (the "melon color" of afternoon light) as well as striking awkwardness ("Entering the exam hall
from the whipping chaos of the snowstorm was to be faced with a void.") The power of these stories is his ability to allow the reader to empathize with both victim and healer. Although a few of the stories feel like scenes from ER, several work extremely well. A harrowing story about the SARS epidemic ("Contact Tracing"), set in a Toronto hospital, gives the reader an intimate, inside view, while a story that explores the mind of a psychotic ("Winston") can leave the reader feeling unnerved and groundless. --Mark Frutkin
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From Publishers Weekly
Winner of Canada's Giller Prize, Lam puts all the sex, and death and sleep deprivation crucial to any hospital drama in his debut story collection about doctors in the making. Thankfully Lam, an emergency room physician, looks beyond blood and guts to examine the conflicted hearts and minds of the four medical students sleepwalking their way through the required tests, dissections and all-night emergency room shifts. The stories trace an almost endless stretch of education and service that puts their stamina and skills to the test: Fitz (short for Fitzgerald) has a not-so-secret drinking problem, the fallout from which that lands him an unexpected job; Ming, the main cast's only woman, has a cold scientist's outlook that both aids and hinders her; Sri's heart breaks for anything that comes near his scalpel—be it a tattooed cadaver or a rambling psychotic; and dispassionate Chen struggles, like Sri, to balance compassion with his desire to succeed. The stories' quiet strength lies not in the doctors' education but in Lam's portrayal of the flawed humans behind the surgical masks. This collection made a big splash in Canada, and, as Weinstein Books' first title, is poised to do the same in the U.S. (Sept.)
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