Lam's first book, a collection of
interconnected short stories, opens with "How To Get
Into Medical School, Part 1, a story which at first
glance treads familiar territory - an Asian girl of
first generation immigrant parents finds herself
torn between her budding love for fellow medical
student Fitz (an unsuitable boy by dint of him not
being Asian) and her drive to succeed at the highest
level as a medical student.
But, just as one is being lulled into thinking that immigrant assimilation and angst with a topping of young love is to be the order of the day, the story takes a subtle twist that causes the reader to sit up and take note. The following three stories follow a small group of medical students through their training, each story building on the last, providing new facets to what has come before. The next four stories change perspective and location, taking one of the young doctors to Brisbane, Australia to care for his dying grandfather, and then turning the tables to tell stories from the perspective of the patient. The collection reaches its most urgent and visceral in the final third of the book with superficially simple stories that seem to cut to the very quick of humanity.
Readers will find Lam's stories far more grounded in reality than the sensationalized medical dramas served up all too frequently on TV - perhaps because Lam is not only an emergency room doctor himself but also does not own a TV! Although three of the four doctors who star in his stories are of Asian descent, ethnicity has only a peripheral role to play. Center stage are the small moral dilemmas faced by emergency room doctors every day, and the tension caused by facing a life and death decision in one room, and walking out to potentially face another in the next.
The one irritating element in this otherwise excellent collection is an excessively comprehensive 10-page glossary at the back of the book providing definitions of medical terms, including challenging words such as 'abdomen', 'amnesia' and 'antidote' (to name just three of the A's). Not only are many of the words in the glossary ridiculously simple but even those terms that might be unknown to readers can be sufficiently understood in context as to make the glossary excess to requirements. Ironically, the only time the glossary was referenced by this reviewer was to look up the meaning of 'omentum', which should have been placed between 'neuron' and 'pacemaker' in the glossary, but was not included! To add insult to injury the glossary is prefaced by a disclaimer stating that it is "believed to be accurate [but] is not a medical dictionary".
You can read the complete text of the first story,
"How To Get Into Medical School, Part I", by
clicking the "Browse" link below. To the best
of our knowledge, this story is available online
only at BookBrowse. The second story, "Take
All of Murphy", is available at the author's
"I wanted to write
about the way in which a person changes as they
become a physician - how their world view shifts,
and how they become a slightly different version of
themselves in the process of becoming a doctor. I
wanted to write about the reality that doing good
and trying to help others is not simple. It is
ethically complicated and sometimes involves a
reality that can only be expressed by telling a
- Vincent Lam.
This review was originally published in September 2007, and has been updated for the September 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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