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Black Flies: A Novel Paperback – May 21, 2008


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 185 pages
  • Publisher: Soft Skull Press; (3rd) edition (May 21, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1593761910
  • ISBN-13: 978-1593761912
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,066,094 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Gunshot wounds, crack pipes and rotting corpses abound in this raw and fascinating novel about Harlem paramedics in the mid-1990s, the second novel from former EMT Burke. Oliver Cross graduated from Northwestern as a middle-class do-gooder. But he and his partner, Rutkovsky, a jaded Vietnam veteran and one of the city's best medics, see enough massive trauma to put Cross on the fast track to deep disillusionment. Of the bizarre, tragic and often shocking emergencies encountered during Cross's rookie tenure, the crisis comes when he and Rutkovsky respond to a call from an abandoned building where a crack-addicted, HIV-positive mother has just given birth to a premature baby, and their handling of the mother and child—believed to be stillborn—will alter the course of both men's lives. Burke is a poet of trauma, and his expert, macabre portrayal takes its toll on the reader just as the job takes its toll on Cross. (May)
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Review

"Burke's evocation of early 1990s New York is dead-on, as is the burnout and despair of paramedics who can't afford to understand or empathize with those they are tasked to treat. No wonder lines are crossed and consequences are enormous." -- Sarah Weinmann, "Picks of the Week"

"Gunshot wounds, crack pipes and rotting corpses abound in this raw and fascinating novel about Harlem paramedics in the mid-1990s, the second novel from former EMT Burke . . . Burke is a poet of trauma, and his expert, macabre portrayal takes its toll on the reader just as the job takes its toll on Cross." -- Publishers Weekly (starred)

"Although Black Flies is a novel, it contains more reflections of lived experience than some memoirs (particularly recent memoirs). Reading this arresting, confrontational book is like reading Dispatches, Michael Herr's indelible account of his years as a reporter in Vietnam." -- Liesl Schillinger, New York Times Book Review

"Burke's evocation of early 1990s New York is dead-on, as is the burnout and despair of paramedics who can't afford to understand or empathize with those they are tasked to treat. No wonder lines are crossed and consequences are enormous." --Sarah Weinmann, "Picks of the Week"

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Customer Reviews

This book really goes to the heart of their thankless job, showing you the guts, gutters and hardships that they must endure day in and day out.
Disciple of Poseidon
The author draws on his own life experience in a book filled with scatter shot impressions - much the way you might imagine a day as a paramedic might be.
Caitlin Martin
Not a pick of mine for book of the year, but if you are in the health field you will most likely relate to many of the plot lines and patient traumas.
D. Stout

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By C. Hutton on May 24, 2008
Format: Paperback
Mr. Burke has taken circumstances of his own life (as an EMT and as a paramedic) and turned them into this novel. It is fascinating but not for the faint-hearted -- it is graphic in a medical sort of way. "Black Flies" is a page-turner and the reader will finish this brief story in one night. Ollie Cross is a rookie inducted into the macho, burn out world of emergency medicine in an urban setting. I have the feeling that this is a memoir dressed up as a novel.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan E. Evison on May 17, 2008
Format: Paperback
. . .i lifted an advance readers copy of this book when i was in soft skull's chelsea offices, so i could read it on my flight back to seattle. . . i don't usually do "dark" all that much, i'm kind of a wuss that way-- i could scarcely make it through kosinski's 'the painted bird' because the graphic violence upset my sensitive constitution . . . but burke's novel entranced me from the get go-- in fact, i was rifling through the final pages even as we began to unload. i kept thinking: this is what scorsese was trying to achieve with "bringing in the dead"-- a riveting, wrenching, totally affecting moral tale. burke is masterful with tension, a narrative element which i find sadly lacking in far too much literary fiction . . .
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mike B on April 26, 2009
Format: Paperback
This is a very gritty and grisly book describing the paramedics who work on the ambulances in Harlem in New York City. The job is more than draining - it corrodes the lives of most of these workers. They are faced with rescuing many patients who are at the dead-end of society - drug addicts, homeless people, gang members... Most of the public loathe them. It's a thankless job.

The book is narrated from the first-person. The job and the people doing it are vividly described. Like most jobs there are good and bad individuals, but due to the nature of the work the `bad' individuals are empowered and become abusive.

The power of this book is that we feel the narrator being swept in by all aspects of what he encounters on the job. Like most jobs in takes you within its confines and you become submerged within it - like a member of a cult. You become accepted by your co-workers and it is only your co-workers who relate to the unique circumstances of the work environment. As the story progresses the narrator becomes alienated from friends and family - they become outsiders to his working realm, not part of his world. The work becomes so dominate that burn-out symptoms become unrecognizable.

The extreme nature of the paramedics work makes this well worth reading. Unlike many other works of fiction we are not burdened with an over excess of words and pages.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A reader from Washington DC on May 29, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
One of the hardest things about being in the health care profession is that, from the perspective of the caregiver, after a while patients' problems can begin to lose their edge. Patients themselves can begin to seem unimportant, unreal, compared to the caregiver's concerns. The protagonist of this book -- Ollie Cross, a NYC paramedic assigned to Harlem -- experiences this challenge in depth. The author makes Ollie's loss of compassion quite understandable by recounting in almost mind-numbing succession one horrifying experience after another. Not for the fainthearted, but if you are in health care, particularly if you work in a setting whereby the resources are inadequate and the patient population challenging, this cautionary tale is worth reading.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By H. L. Smith on June 16, 2008
Format: Paperback
when I picked this book up for the first time I wasn't sure what to expect exactly, but I was taken by storm. I devoured this book in between calls on my ambulance and finished it in about 4 hours in total. it's got some stylistic similarities to Tim O'brien's the things they carried except that it holds together as a single more or less continuos story. at the same time the author has sort of a no holds barred concept which gives the story the same sort of gritty gut punching feeling as a Hubert Selby Jr Novel (Last exit to brooklyn, Requiem for a Dream)...almost all in all this book swept me away and didn't let me go until I was done and I spent the rest of the day leafing through it a reliving my favorite parts of the book because I wasnt quite ready to be done yet. highly recomended
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J. Smallridge on June 27, 2011
Format: Paperback
This book is astounding for such a short novel. The story is amazingly real, and the characters move in and out of shadows almost like they are moving in and out of life. This is a work not to be missed and one to be re-read instead of complaining about the end of American literature.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ryan on December 27, 2010
Format: Paperback
A short, but intense book, capturing in grimy, snapshot detail the experience of a young paramedic working in one of New York City's worst neighborhoods as he progresses from idealistic rookie to disaffected veteran. Burke's spare but direct prose does a great job of conveying the urban blight of Harlem, and the ways in which EMTs can slip over the edge as they do an endlessly thankless job amid the misery and indifference of the inner city. The writing sometimes drifts towards cliche, but the truth it gets across kept me turning the pages.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Disciple of Poseidon VINE VOICE on December 8, 2010
Format: Paperback
This is a solid story told in first person about a medic named Ollie Cross, a green medic joining a rough group of medics in Harlem. The story is excellent as the author draws from his own experience as a medic in NYC. The story follows Cross who begins his 14 month career as a medic in Harlem and we watch his spiral from positive green recruit, to his evolution into a disillusioned grizzled veteran of one of the toughest areas to be a medic. You ride along with Cross and his various coworkers (the crass LaFontaine, the idealist Verdis, and the hardened veteran partner Rutkovsky)and their equally varied points of view of being a medic in Harlem. The author does a great job creating tension and build up as these medics jump from gruesome scene to scene all while the people they serve distrust them, mistreat them and plain just don't like them. There is a good amount of dark humor as well. A medic even uses a sock puppet to diagnose an elderly patient. This book really goes to the heart of their thankless job, showing you the guts, gutters and hardships that they must endure day in and day out. I really enjoyed this novel, and I recommend it highly to anyone.
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