four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
31-Nov-Dec-2007
By: 
Vincent Lam
Awards: 
user_rating: 
0

Stories

A-Bloodletting and Miraculous CuresBloodletting, which won Canada’s Giller Prize, strips away the romance from the medical profession as it follows four young Toronto physicians’ training from med school to the ER. In 12 connected stories, Lam, a Toronto ER physician, reveals the contradictions and dilemmas that characterize their lives. Fitz develops a drinking problem to cope with stress; Ming, driven by her immigrant parents, treats her patients coldly and analytically; Chen marries Ming after her short-lived romance with Fitz; and Sri, an overly sensitive doctor, is diagnosed with cancer. Their stories culminate in the 2003 SARS virus, which puts an all-too-human face on their own fragile lives.
Weinstein Books. 362 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 1602860009

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"The book reads like inside information, as if Lam is telling us what other doctors wish he wouldn’t. … In the pages that follow, we see both art and science." Steven Hayward

Ottawa Citizen 4 of 5 Stars
"There’s a glossary of medical terms at the back of the book, but Lam is at his best when he explores more recondite territory: the private doubts and aspirations of his cast of four young, mainly inexperienced doctors. … In this impressive first book, by all appearances, Lam’s concern for his flawed characters and their difficult choices comes naturally." Joel Yanofsky

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[The book] lets us peek behind those swinging doors at the end of a hospital’s echoing hallway; we overhear conversations, gaze at patient charts, let out our breath at the end of a failed resuscitation. Lam’s writing is both minimalist and elegant, like a taut line of stitches perfectly placed." Moira Macdonald

Tampa Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"While each chapter stands on its own, thus justifying the label ‘short story,’ collectively the characters and incidents intertwine with the comprehensiveness of a novel. … Lam’s prose is as specific and unsentimental as a medical chart, but it works." Kathy L. Greenberg

Toronto Star 4 of 5 Stars
"Lam opens a door into the world of successful, assimilated young Chinese-Canadian professionals and he does so with the authority of an insider. We have not heard much about people like Chen and Ming and their friend Sri, nor Ming’s rejected non-Chinese lover Fitz in Canadian fiction before." Judy Stoffman

Globe and Mail [Toronto] 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The inward-looking world of fiction, too often a creative-writing class not quite brought to life, needs this kind of practitioner and not just for the energizing vocabulary he brings to the language of the heart: atrial electricity, crash cart, rhythm strip, mitral regurgitation. Lam has new stories to tell, and while TV series such as House and ER have prepared the way for the medical slice-of-life, the focus here is much more on the relentlessly analytical doctors themselves." John Allemang

National Post [Ontario] 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Occasionally some of the pieces feel more like writing exercises than stories. … Nevertheless, Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures is a satisfying, engrossing read, partly because of the intrinsically fascinating subject matter, but also because of Lam’s patient characterizations and understanding of the human heart." Kevin Chong

Critical Summary

Vincent Lam joins the ranks of doctor-writers with his award-winning debut novel. Compared to the popular TV dramas Grey’s Anatomy, House, and ER, Bloodletting (set to become a Canadian TV drama itself) offers an intriguing look at naïve doctors’ lives and aspirations while showcasing the humanity and daily dilemmas they face. In both humorous and worst-case scenarios, Lam depicts how students plot their way into med school, develop strange ties to cadavers, break terrible news to patients’ families, second-guess all their actions, collaborate against their consciences, and deal with life-threatening illnesses of their own. Although a few critics cited flat dialogue, Bloodletting offers a compelling and insightful view of the medical profession.