This is that rare combination of memoirs: an interesting life lived by someone who cares deeply about the craft of writing. Terrance Holt recounts an amalgamation of stories about his work as a doctor, mostly revolving around his rotations and internships.
I really like medical stories, especially when they are true and nitty-gritty, and the fact that Holt lived these stories makes them more powerful. He does not skimp on the medical terminology, so at times I felt lost, but he also has a pretty amazing vocabulary and I found three words in this book that I had not read before and had to look up to make sure I had the definition right. I count that as a major win. Maybe 1 in 15 books I read has even one word I don’t know (except industry jargon, which doesn’t count as real words.)
Holt changes the names, stories, and details of his patients, as he explains in his introduction, so it’s not as much narrative non-fiction as it is fiction-based-on reality. Even the doctor-narrator has a different name, a choice I found odd to the point of affectation.
I liked it best when the stories were just stories, interesting anecdotes about the bafflingly inhuman and dangerous custom of forcing residents and interns to be constantly sleep-deprived, or descriptions of odd people he’s met. I liked it least when he seemed to be groping for some MFA lit-magazine kind of deep commentary on the state of humankind. A couple of stories, sad to the point of being depressing, seemed to be trying to make some philosophical point, but I judged these obvious attempts at MEANING as “a swing and a miss.”
It’s not the best medical memoir I’ve read, and I found it occasionally depressing, but it was worth a read anyway.