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Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures: Storiesby Vincent Lam
Synopses & Reviews
Provocative, heartbreaking, and darkly humorous, Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures introduces readers to a masterful new voice in fiction. A practicing ER physician, Vincent Lam delivers a precise and intimate portrait of the medical profession in his fiction debut. These twelve interwoven stories follow a group of young doctors as they move from the challenges of medical school to the intense world of emergency rooms, evacuation missions, and terrifying new viruses. Winner of the prestigious Giller Prize, Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures marks the arrival of a deeply humane and preternaturally gifted writer.
Fitz, Ming, Chen, and Sri are the four ambitious protagonists of Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures. They fall in love as they study for their exams, face moral dilemmas as they split open cadavers, confront police who rough up their patients, and treat schizophrenics with pathologies similar to their own. In one harrowing story set amidst the 2003 SARS crisis, which the author witnessed firsthand, two of these doctors suddenly become the patients.
Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures invites us into a world where the ordinary becomes the critical in a matter of seconds. A formidable debut, it is a profound and unforgettable depiction of today's doctors, patients, and hospitals.
"'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.)' Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)"
"During my first tentative days as a medical student, a mentor explained the transition into doctorhood this way: 'There are suddenly three things that separate you from everyone else: You touch and cut open a dead body; you ask people socially inappropriate questions and they answer you; and you can walk into a room and ask someone to take off his clothes, and he will do it.' With that shift, I would... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) learn, came both the power and powerlessness of doctoring: the defiant salvation of a sick or injured life right alongside our helplessness in the face of the body's failings. The central characters in Vincent Lam's award-winning collection of stories, 'Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures,' struggle as their identities undergo this very transition. Lam's narratives orbit around four doctors-in-training, two of whom — Ming and Fitz — are first introduced to us as undergraduates clamoring for medical school admission. We meet the others, Sri and Chen, when they join Ming beside a cadaver in their first-year gross anatomy class. As a collection of stories, 'Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures' is relatively unencumbered by the need to share with us how this transition takes place. Instead, the book gains power from its leaps between one story and the next. In the earliest tales, the characters are full of the unsettled angst of doctors-to-be. Fitz is a lovelorn and idealistic student who chafes at the regurgitation that his pre-med classes require. Chen, after only his first year in medical school, is called 'doctor' by his family and asked to gauge precisely when his terminally ill grandfather will die. As the characters resurface in later stories, their reticence and dissonance have totally gone, and we are struck by how quickly they have become dispassionate and jaded cogwheels in medicine's machinery. Readers (patients, all of us) who hope to find within these stories glimpses of a sense of altruism that drives doctors to devote their lives to healing will come away disappointed and disillusioned. Ming, Chen, Sri and Fitz are our windows into a side of medicine that is bleak and stained. Their hospital world is fueled by ego and ambition and is incessantly challenged by the fact of death. When the once-idealistic Fitz is bitten by a patient who has a gash on his head, he retaliates by closing the wound with painful and imprecise staples rather than the more appropriate sutures. Chen — who lovingly describes the quirks of his family members in 'A Long Migration,' one of the most successful stories in the collection — is reduced by the book's end to an angry and detached ER doc who delivers a mocking tirade about an obese patient to a consulting physician. In what feels like a mythic exchange, we witness these young doctors lose their own souls as they save their patients' lives. And yet the transformation of Lam's characters does not make us despise them so much as it makes us recognize and resent the system of medical training we see them straining beneath. Like the real-world doctors they represent (and, in all likelihood, the author himself, an emergency physician in Toronto), Ming, Chen, Sri and Fitz work ridiculous hours at a breakneck pace. They perform heroic acts and save others' lives, but in the process they lose the ability to nourish and sustain themselves. It is as if they spend so much time defying death that they begin to see themselves as impervious to it. As a result, when they leave the hospital, they drive too fast, drink too much, fall asleep at the wheel — in essence, put at risk the very lives they work all week to save. This tension — watching the best and the brightest careen away from humanity and toward self-destruction — gives 'Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures' its unmistakable Hollywood sheen. Lam's dramatic flourishes of plot contribute to this feel. A patient has a fatal heart attack while being serviced by a prostitute. Sri, in his first year of residency, goes to the apartment of a paranoid psychotic patient and arrives just in time to foil a homicide. And Ming performs an emergency C-section on an unanaesthetized patient to save a fetus in distress. While these crises lure readers with a kind of sensational voyeurism into medicine, the truth is that Lam doesn't need that artifice. There are many quieter moments of lovely writing in the book, often coupled with sharp insight. The most powerful of Lam's stories is 'Night Flight,' in which the drama of a medevac team lifting a stroke victim out of Guatemala fades behind more compelling questions: How far should one go to preserve a life, especially when the odds of any meaningful success are slim to none? Is a doctor ever entitled to withhold medical details from a patient's family to spare them anguish? In this collection, Lam deftly illuminates the line physician and patient must walk together — hope and health on one side, cynicism and sickness on the other. We see in cold light what is at risk when the balance slips too far in either direction. In the end, 'Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures' asks how much of death's burden should rest on the shoulders of those we ask to fight against it." Reviewed by Christine Montross, who is a resident in psychiatry at Brown University and the author of 'Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab', Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Direct in style, unsparing though compassionate in observation, subtle in emotion, and occasionally gruesome in humor, Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures follows four medical students from widely different backgrounds as their stories intertwine, as their illusions shatter, and as the meanings of many lives expand around them. The good news is that doctors are human beings. The bad news is that doctors are human beings. The other good news is that this book marks a stunning debut." Margaret Atwood
"Some stories ramble along...but most are action packed and insightful." Library Journal
"Vincent Lam crafts sentences that veteran writers will covet. His fresh and stunning talent will satisfy all readers who hunger for powerful stories." Wayson Choy, author of All That Matters
Following four young medical students and physicians, this debut collection of 12 interwoven short stories from 2006 Scotiabank Giller Prize-winner Lam is a riveting, eye-opening account of what it means to be a doctor.Hachette Book Group USA
About the Author
Dr. Vincent Lam was born in London, Ontario, and studied medicine in Toronto where he is an emergency physician at Toronto East General Hospital. Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures was awarded the 2006 Giller Prize. His work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, the National Post, and Carve. Dr. Lam's family is from the expatriate Chinese community of Vietnam, and his first novel, a multi-generational family saga set in Saigon during the Vietnam War, will be published by Weinstein Books in 2008. Lam lives with his wife and son in Toronto.
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