Over three decades, Richard Selzer has brought his skills as a surgeon to the page, wrestling powerful descriptions of pain and deliverance into words. This collection gathers representative writings from the whole of his career, including set pieces like the four-part "Letter to a Young Surgeon" and frequently anthologized essays on such delicate matters as delivering the news of a death to loved ones (and what happens to the corpse afterward).
Death is a constant theme in these essays, for "only in literature do the dead have a voice." Selzer has a marked talent for removing some of the mystery and fear from what is, after all, an inevitable process. He is also superb at describing such routine events of the surgical theater as the scrubbing of hands, the proper and improper functioning of blood and organs, and the instantaneous decisions that a doctor must make during a normal day. Selzer's style is often ornate--"What heartbroken psoriatic, surveying his embattled skin," he writes, "would not volunteer for an unanesthetized flaying could it but rid him of his pink sequins, his silver spangles?"--and not to every taste, but his gentle reflections on human frailty afford a revealing view of the practice of medicine, which Selzer clearly loves. "Say what you will about writing," he notes, "there is no more thrilling an achievement than the successful completion of a difficult surgical dissection." --Gregory McNamee
Selzer's eighth essay collection contains 25 medical, literary, and autobiographical pieces, seven of them first publications. The seven include a moving report on visiting Haiti and the effects of AIDS in that poverty-stricken country, two essays on death, and a piece about a mother and her adult son conversing and each claiming that the one speaking loves the other more than the reverse. The other new essays are on writing and on growing up in Troy, New York. The longest recalls rooting for the Trojans while reading the Iliad
, a recent near-disastrous return home, and the importance of a vacant lot in a child's life. Of the pieces on writing, one shows how well Selzer intertwines surgery and writing, while the three-page "Writer's Block" stresses the value of Selzer's corduroy writing pants and other antiblock devices. Those seven will be worth the price of admission for Selzer's longtime fans, whose numbers will swell as newcomers become intrigued and delighted by his wit, perception, and skillful use of language throughout the book. William BeattyCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved