From Publishers Weekly
Menger-Anderson's vivid and original collection follows several generations of New York doctors and charts the social and political forces that shaped New York City from the 17th century to today. Dr. Olaf van Schuler emigrates from Holland to New Amsterdam in 1664 and continues his study of animal brains. After he has a child by Adalind Steenwycks, each subsequent generation spins out in its own story, concluding with Dr. Elizabeth Steenwycks, the medical researcher daughter of Dr. Stuart Steenwycks, a plastic surgeon dying of a rare and fatal brain malady. Each generation applies the then current medical wisdom to tasks as varied as explaining a death by spontaneous combustion, resuscitating a boy's corpse and using phrenology to predict human behavior. In the early 1970s, Americans' obsession with their body image arises in the woeful tale of Sheila Talbot, 21, whose leaky breast implants hark back to the less-than-helpful medicine practiced in previous generations. The reader can follow how far medicine has advanced, but, surprisingly, note how human suffering and misery hasn't come such a long way. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved."
The history of medicine and medical quackery, and one family’s personal history within that context, conjoin in this startlingly effective, even educational, novel. The Steenwyck family represents a long procession of brilliant doctors, going all the way back to colonial New York; but if brilliant, they also have quirky, even strange personalities. In a sequence of relatively short chapters, the author, eschewing a long, continuous narrative, preferring, in fact, an album of picture portraits, takes what amounts to snapshots of each Steenwyck doctor as the generations succeed one another, with each doctor’s “professional” activities speaking to the medical issue—or fad—of the day, from learning the mechanics of the brain to raising the dead to practicing phrenology to the Salk vaccine to the current popularity of breast implants. These individuals conduct their research and practices with typical Steenwyck passion, even in the face of skepticism, adversity, and disastrous results. For the most part, medical history cannot help but be interesting, and this author brings the subject to a fascinating glow; by extension, the story of the Steenwyck family becomes one thread of American cultural history. --Brad Hooper