Synopses & Reviews
In The Viewing Room
, two hospital chaplains console the living during the moments when they look upon their beloved dead for one last time in a large urban hospital in Los Angeles. But this room is also a character, linking stories together and bearing witness in chilling testimony of grief and wisdom. Henrietta and Maurice, the chaplains, are ministers who have lost their faith due to devastating personal tragedy. Still, they regain their hold on their own lives through their work, one death at a time.
Jacquelin Gorman lays bare nine parallel worlds of suffering in stories of unflinching detail, vividly told with heart, guts, and compassion. In these pages, the children are both murderers and victims, and the adults fare no better: a teenage father shakes his screaming baby to death; high school surfers kill the homeless for sport as a way of cleaning up their beaches; a Muslim basketball player readies her best friend for burial with a sacred ritual that reveals forbidden love; a scorned ex-wife leaves a message in permanent ink on the body of her betrayer; and a pet therapy dog’s unconditional love for a decaying body memorializes the spirit within.
This moving and unsettling collection of stories shines a piercing light on the dark corners of our modern world, illuminating necessary truths that convey a clearer and, undoubtedly, greater vision of humanity.
"Gorman's fiction debut is a slender story collection that follows two hospital chaplains, one experienced, one a novice, as they support the living as they part ways with recently deceased loved ones in the viewing room of a large Los Angeles hospital. In unflinching detail Gorman, herself a hospital chaplain, describes the odor of dying and the varying physical reactions of the living during the last viewing. The two protagonists, Henrietta and Maurice, are not immune to the suffering they witness. Although their role is to offer comfort, they too are broken from tragedies in their own lives. Compassion and love spring from each of these unsettling stories: the optimism of a lonely woman dying from odiferous diabetes and the hospital dog's unfettering devotion to her, and the high school student who performs sacred Muslim burial rites for her special friend. Gorman navigates these emotionally intense situations through the perspective of the chaplains as they struggle to maintain professional composure. Both characters are deeply human in their portrayal, each with their own coping mechanisms: Maurice, for example, puts Vaseline in his contact lenses to avoid seeing the autopsy he is required to view. These vibrant but disturbing stories provide insight into life's bleakest moments.
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“The vivid, powerful, and disturbing stories of The Viewing Room exhibit a deep caring about the preciousness of life and the strength of the bonds that can link us to one another. When love and death are locked in intimate embrace, the only recourse for bystanders is compassion. Brave and honest, these stories whisper to the reader, ‘Take care, take care,’ and, ‘Help one another.’”—Sena Jeter Naslund, author of Adam & Eve
“I have never read anything at all like this stark and brilliant book, which examines death, dying, and human love through the perspective of young hospital chaplain Henrietta during her initial year of duty in the ‘viewing room.’ I feel changed and enlarged by these extraordinary characters, their dire situations, and life stories.”—Lee Smith, author of Fair and Tender Ladies
"Gorman's nine, hard-hitting linked stories feature two likable hospital chaplains who minister in a Los Angeles hospital. . . . Loss, forgiveness, grace, and compassion fatigue are recurrent themes. Perhaps more profoundly than most, these caring chaplains understand 'how grief can wear a person down.'" —Tony Miksanek, Booklist
"Gorman navigates these emotionally intense situations through the perspective of the chaplains as they struggle to maintain professional composure. . . . These vibrant but disturbing stories provide insight into life's bleakest moments." —Publishers Weekly
"The Viewing Room is a heart-carving collection of loosely connected stories dealing with grief, death and dying. . . . If the tone and subject matter is somber, rest assured the book is gorgeously written and offers moments of redemption and resolution." —Rick Koster, The Day
“[The Viewing Room] is a short and quick read, but it will linger in a reader’s mind for far longer. It is as painful as it is freeing.”—Bailey Tulloch, Sacramento Book Review
"The Viewing Room is a short quick read, but it will linger in mind for a very long time."—Marian Betancourt, PlainViews
"I loved working with Jacquelin Gorman in the Praiano writers' group and was blown away when I read her unforgettable story collection, The Viewing Room. How did she do it? How did Jackie craft fiction about death and dying that is triumphantly life-affirming? I marvel at her achievement and hope that The Viewing Room finds the wide audience it deserves." —Wally Lamb, The Day
About the Author
Jacquelin Gorman is the author of The Seeing Glass, a memoir. She grew up in a family of physicians in the shadow of Johns Hopkins Hospital and spent a great deal of time in Maryland’s hospitals as a girl. She has practiced as a health-care lawyer in Los Angeles and as a hospital chaplain, and she is currently the program director at the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Her stories have appeared in Slake Magazine, Kenyon Review, ScreamOnline, The Journal, and Reader’s Digest.