Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Why I’m in Love with Vincent Lam

I was recently re-arranging my bookshelf when I found my copy of Vincent Lam’s Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures. I immediately started to leaf through it and I once again realized how much some of his stories resonated with me. Lam’s stories revolve around the lives and changing perceptions of a group of medical students as they go through school, residency and eventually become full-fledged doctors. In Eli, a story that I found to be one of the most compelling in the collection, a doctor’s encounter with a prisoner brought in by the police is simmering with moral and ethical dilemmas that develop at a lightening pace. In yet another story featuring the same doctor, this time in a SARS isolation ward during the height of the epidemic, Lam delicately but authoritatively draws out what it means to the characters to be a doctor. In the last story of the collection, Lam describes a typical night shift which I found to be a wonderful ending to the collection as it highlights how confident yet weary he has become.

I’ve heard that every time a book is read, it is read by a different person. When I first read this book, I was stunned and fascinated by how the characters managed to hold dichotomous world views. On the one hand they were doctors – a profession defined by healing – on the other hand, at times they were deeply ambivalent, if not downright hostile towards their patients. I was also frustrated because I felt that the stories did not offer enough exploration or closure. Rather, I felt like I was being given selected glimpses into the characters’ lives. Lam based the stories on his experiences as an ER physician; now that I too work in an ER and only catch glimpses into patients’ lives, who sometimes present with situations that manage to deeply unnerve me, I am much more at ease with what Lam has left unwritten. I am greatly looking forward to his next book and in the meantime, I strongly recommend that Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures be in your reading list.

Disclaimer – I haven’t been paid by the publishers or the author to write this post (although the extra income would be greatly welcome).


Liz said...

I don't know how I happened upon it, but one of my treasured books is "The Blood of Strangers" by Frank Huyler.

Dr. Huyler is an ER doc with the touch of a poet. He tells his stories simply and with great insight.

I highly recommend it. I've never worked in an ER (or ED as some insist...:D) but he knows how to be human, and that's something we can all relate to.

Stephanie Faris said...

The word "bloodletting" has always given me the creeps in a major way. I can't even think about it. Eek. But you're right...each of us brings our own world experiences to the books we read...which is why book groups are so fun.

Lia said...

I love this book. There was an HBO mini-series made from it in 2010, but I haven't found where I can purchase it.

I like your taste! And I like the quote about a different person reading the book each time.

Tee said...

That does sound interesting! I'll have to see if our library has a copy.

Eustace said...

Oh my god, there's a lot of effective material in this post!