2 out of 4 stars
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The blurb about The Surgeon’s Wife by William H. Coles, lead me to believe it would be a mixture of drama, romance and troubled family dynamics, set in the background of medical malpractice issues. Instead, I found a bland recitation of a string of events that do bear some resemblance to the promised story, but lack continuity and impact.
The main character is Mike Boudreaux, a surgeon, working in a busy New Orleans hospital. He came from a Cajun working-class background, with his single mother employed as a medium and herbalist to put him through medical school. Mike had always realised that despite becoming Chief of Surgeons on his own merit, he would never be fully accepted in a social sense by his peers- most of whom had been born or married into moneyed families. Clayton Otherson was Mike’s teacher and mentor and a highly respected surgeon, whose wealth gave him a lot of influence on various boards and committees in medical and philanthropic circles.
The story begins with an operating room emergency, where Clayton nicked an artery and refused Mike’s assistance until the patient was close to exsanguination. In the ensuing internal hospital inquiry into the incident, Clayton refused to accept that his abilities may be failing and so pressured Mike to make the issue and any consequences ‘go away’. The inquiry became more complicated when other medical doctors on the board used it as a vehicle to push their own agendas and the matter became more about the rising demand for gastric surgery in the treatment of obesity. I have never really given thought to the topic of elective surgery for weight control- or indeed, any other non-emergency procedures- and I found it interesting when the author highlighted what a lucrative industry it has become.
The romance element appeared when Mike’s girlfriend left him unexpectedly, and the medical dramas saw Mike spending more time with Clayton, his wife and daughter. Quite predictably, Mike and Clayton’s wife, Catherine, fell in love and began an affair, which set off a chain of events that changed everything and brought the troubled family dynamics into play. A patient died from complications of obesity surgery performed by Clayton and his position was terminated, adversely affecting his mental health.
Given the bones of this story, it could have been a riveting and action-packed ride. Instead, I found it emotionless and disjointed. The author favours short, choppy, incomplete sentences: ‘Except, of course, for Clayton. His teacher, his mentor. Clayton guided his promotions and appointments. Professionally, not socially. In the world of surgery.’ When this kind of sentence is used as part of a dialogue, it is acceptable because people do actually speak like this. However, when the majority of the non-dialogue writing is in this style, I find it scratchy and irritating. Another annoying habit the author has, is using And and But and So to begin sentences- again in non-dialogue passages, without even a comma behind them to lend authority.
The characters remained two-dimensional all the way to the end. Time-lines were erratic and confusing, and the scene jumped backwards and forwards between characters and places- blurring the story line and making it difficult for the reader to get a ‘feel’ for the situations. Descriptions of physical scenery and personal appearances were comprehensive and well-rounded, but the emotional scenes were flat. The characters acted in unexpected ways and said odd things, rarely expressing any tangible feelings that a reader could identify with. I did not like or dislike any of the characters because I didn’t get any real sense of their personalities, or the part they were supposed to play in the grand scheme. I came to the end of the book with a feeling of apathy and melancholy, and even though it ended with a shred of hope, it didn’t stir me.
There were a few errors and strange word-usages, but the editing was acceptable in my view- though a few more strategically-placed commas would help. I give this book a score of 2 out of 4 stars. I think the plot had a lot of potential and started out with promise, but I feel the choppy style and lack of emotional engagement detracted from the book’s overall appeal.
The Surgeon's Wife
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