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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: 8.2 x 6.5 x 0.5 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: #155,773 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

The story is excellent as the author draws from his own experience as a medic in NYC.
Disciple of Poseidon
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
I'm a woman, but Burke helped me understand the rage, terror, sublimation and love that inspired very different reactions in the characters.
Susan Kuchinskas

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 S. Agusto-Cox on October 30, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Shannon Burke's Black Flies: A Novel is a masterpiece of characterization and plot. Burke, a former paramedic in Harlem, New York, weaves his disjointed plot through a series of in-depth characterizations and vivid event descriptions. He traces the steps rookie Ollie Cross takes as he tries to fit in with the Station 18 crew and still hold onto his dreams of medical school, and along the way he spirals out of control, only to emerge on the other side of a black hole with his first save and a sense of purpose.

Ollie is green according to the other paramedics in his unit, simply because he wants to save lives and is gung-ho about his job. Rutkovsky is assigned as his partner, and he's a hard-nosed paramedic with a military past. LaFontaine is the department nut, while Verdis is his foil, interested in following the book and attending each patient with courtesy and care. Hatsuru is often in the background with a medical text in his hand while they await the next call or are on lunch break, and Marmol and Rivett round out the rest of the crew.

Ollie joins the paramedic unit to gain experience while he studies for the MCATs, hoping to improve his scores and get into medical school. Amidst high crime rates, homelessness, and rampant drug use in the streets of Harlem, these medical professionals strive to save the lives of people some would say are unworthy of saving. This novel examines the struggle these paramedics face daily, regarding split-second decisions that could either save drug addicts who will only end up back on the street strung out or ending their misery by refusing to treat them.
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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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