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#37 – Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures

August 8, 2007

is there a way to find a cure for this implanted in a pill?Vincent Lam’s Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures is without a doubt one of the most interesting books I’ve read this summer, especially considering that before I started it I was expecting the literature equivalent of Grey’s Anatomy, or ER if I was lucky. I was blown away by what I actually got. Although it is technically a medical drama, there’s no comparison between this book and those shows. Vincent Lam is actually an emergency room doctor in Toronto, so the hospital sections of Bloodletting naturally sound very authentic and convincing. It’s Lam’s ear for his characters that really elevate his stories, however.

Bloodletting consists of 12 short stories, all of which revolve around a group of four Toronto physicians. It’s a really unique way of framing things; although we follow the doctors from med school to internship and through their careers, it’s by no means a straightforward linear novel. It feels more like catching small glimpses of these peoples’ lives, usually without any sort of chronology except what you can glean from the story in context. The doctors themselves sometimes even become supporting characters to their patients. It’s therefore a testament to Lam’s skill at characterization that the reader feels such an intense familiarity with his doctors by the time the book’s climactic story, set during the SARS outbreak in Toronto, arrives.

Lam took home the Giller Prize last year for Bloodletting, and it’s not hard to see why, it’s a stunning fiction debut. The narrative moves seamlessly from the various central characters to an omniscient narrator, with a brilliant streak of black humour and the perfect level of subtle detachment from the story; leading me to believe that Vincent Lam must have the best bedside manner of any doctor in the country. Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures would be a great choice if you’re looking for some good Canadian fiction, or some good medical fiction, or just some overall good writing. I’m really looking forward to reading more from Dr. Lam, and apparently his first novel Cholon, Near Forgotten is due out sometime this year. Man. On top of everything else, he’s got the coolest book titles too.

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