Exploring health in fiction-3 books to consider

I hadn’t planned on writing book reviews when I started this blog. I love to read so  I started recommending health and medical books that I thought sounded interesting. After reading one myself, I thought it would make a good blog post, so my first book review was Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and The Making of a Medical Examiner- a review of words worth sharing

After that, I assumed I would review  non-fiction medical books, and most of them have been. I have reviewed  memoirs  and biographies,  medical history, health advice, dying, vaccination, nutrition, and medical care. I didn’t expect to review fiction, but I have.

That shouldn’t have seemed strange, since most fiction is based on real life, which is full of twists and turns related to our health and well being. Much if not all of what we do is based on our health, which can change suddenly and unexpectedly, and turn our lives upside down. Consider how many TV dramas are based in hospitals, involving health care workers, and sick or injured people.

Here are excerpts and links to 3 of my reviews of books that

explore health in fiction

EXPLORING HEALTH IN FICTION -www.watercresswords.com

My Sister’s Keeper a novel by Jodi Picoult

Now I didn’t actually review this book. I used an excerpt  in a post about hair loss.

Effective solutions if you experience hair loss

 

The book tackles several cutting edge health technologies that can create touchy ethical issues that I haven’t dealt with here, but if I do, I’ll revisit this book.

Here is what I did write about My Sister’s Keeper ,a novel that touches on  several medical themes including cancer, genetic engineering, organ donation, and medical autonomy. The book was also a movie which I haven’t seen yet.

 

 

The story is about Kate, an adolescent who as a toddler developed a rare form of leukemia, and has spent the majority of her life either in the hospital getting treatment or recovering from them. After yet another chemotherapy regimen, she has lost her hair.

One day her mother, Sara, offers to take Kate and her younger sister Anna to the mall for a day out. Kate refuses.

“Don’t say it. Don’t tell me that nobody’s going to stare at me, because they will. Don’t tell me it doesn’t matter because it does. And don’t tell me I look fine because that’s a lie.” Her eyes, lash-bare, fill with tears. “I’m a freak, Mom. Look at me.”

Sara looks at her and says, “Well, we can fix this.”

“She walks out of the room followed by Kate and Anna. She finds a pair of ancient electric grooming clippers, plugs them in, and cuts a swath right down the middle of her own scalp.

“Mom”, Kate gasps.

With another swipe of the razor, Kate starts to smile. She points out a spot Sara missed. Anna crawls onto Sara’s lap. “Me next,” she begs.”

As Sara later remembers:

“An hour later, we walk through the mall holding hands, a trio of bald girls. We stay for hours. Everywhere we go, heads turn and voices whisper. We are beautiful, times three.”

Say Goodbye for Now- a novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde

I was drawn to this book because the main character is a woman physician. I started it just for pleasure, but once drawn into the story, I knew I wanted to review it for the blog. Here’s how my review starts:

In 1959, Dr. Lucille Armstrong, or Dr. Lucy as she is called, practices medicine of sorts in a small Texas town. Although she is a “doctor of human beings”, she spends most of her time taking care of stray and injured animals.

SAY GOODBYE FOR NOW- A Novel

SAY GOODBYE FOR NOW by Catherine Ryan Hyde

To support them and herself, she occasionally treats people; “ it’s not a hobby, I do it for the money.” But because “people there didn’t take well to a woman doctor”, her patients are not always the town’s model citizens.

Dr. Lucy lives alone except for the menagerie of injured animals she has doctored back to life. She likes her life the way it is, until she opens her home to three  unexpected and unlikely guests.

Continue the review here-

Say Goodbye for Now- a book review

Labor Day-a novel by Joyce Maynard

Leaving for a trip, I bought a book to read on the airplane. After reading a few pages, I realized it was also a movie I had seen. So my subsequent review was a book/movie review. The medical themes in this book/movie were subtle, but no less real.

Here is some of what I wrote:

Henry, who narrates the story, lives with his divorced mom in a small town. At 13, Henry seems more mature than he should need to be, while his mother Adele seems childish and naive for a grown woman. As the story unfolds, you begin to wonder  if Adele’s eccentric behavior is due to something more than immaturity.

Adele and Henry are in their small town store buying clothes for school when a man they don’t know approaches them asking for help. Frank seems nice enough and asking for help might not be a problem except for the fact that is is bleeding, and evasive about why.

He asks Adele to take him to her house and either due to fear or poor judgement, she says yes. Both she and Henry seem to realize that something dramatic is about to change in their lives, but what it is, they can only guess at this point.

You can read the entire post here.

Labor Day, a book more interesting than the holiday

 

 

 

 

You can probably borrow these books from your local library- I do. But if you do decide to buy books, please consider the affiliate links here and on the resource page. Purchases through them help support this blog and help share the HEART of health.

Happy reading! Dr. Aletha


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Labor Day, a book more interesting than the holiday

 

Labor Day

A novel by Joyce Maynard

Most of us don’t expect labor Day weekend to change our lives. As a holiday it doesn’t seem to have a purpose; it doesn’t celebrate or commemorate anything other than the end of summer. We use it as an excuse to take another day off from work and school.

When I saw and purchased the book in Barnes and Noble book store I didn’t recognize it as the book from which the movie Labor Day was made. I’m glad, because I probably would not have bought it.

I find that reading books after the movie or vice versa is seldom satisfying. Often characters and settings are changed so the storyline is confusing. And invariably the movie version leaves out much of the character development that a writer can express with words. I didn’t feel that way here.  But more about that later.

(There are multiple affiliate links in this post; their use supports this blog.)

Labor Day-  the characters -a woman, a man, a boy

Henry, who narrates the story, lives with his divorced mom in a small town. At 13, Henry seems more mature than he should need to be, while his mother Adele seems childish and naive for a grown woman. As the story unfolds, you begin to wonder  if Adele’s eccentric behavior is due to something more than immaturity.

Adele and Henry are in their small town store buying clothes for school when a man they don’t know approaches them asking for help. Frank seems nice enough and asking for help might not be a problem except for the fact that is is bleeding, and evasive about why.

He asks Adele to take him to her house and either due to fear or poor judgement, she says yes. Both she and Henry seem to realize that something dramatic is about to change in their lives, but what it is, they can only guess at this point.

LABOR DAY- a book review

Labor Day– the story

As the novel progresses, we learn several story lines.

The main story line, narrated by young Henry, tells what transpires between the three of them over this Labor Day weekend. Weaving throughout are the back stories of what brought them all to this point.

Henry has reached manhood by the end of the book, at which time we learn what happened to these characters years after this memorable Labor Day weekend.

If you want to believe, or already know, that the worst of situations can have a happy ending, the final chapter will please but not surprise you.

Joyce Maynard writes in closing remarks at the end of the book,

“Maybe it’s an impossibly romantic and idealistic story. No doubt ….it would be a very poor idea for a woman to bring home a strange man, as Adele does that Thursday before Labor Day. Perhaps this book should carry a warning label: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.”

Medical themes addressed in Labor Day are heavily weighted around sexuality so if you are uncomfortable with those this book/movie may not appeal to you.

These topics include

  • Puberty and Adolescent sexuality
  • Adult sexuality, both in and outside of marriage

Other health issues explored in the story include

  • Pregnancy and pregnancy loss
  • Emotional/mental dysfunction
  • Marital dysfunction and divorce
  • Childhood disability
  • Trauma and death

 

Following their encounter with Frank in the store, young Henry talks about his feelings as Adele drove them home-

“In the seat next to her, I studied my mother’s face, to see if her expression changed, when Frank said these things. I could feel my heart beating, and a tightness in my chest-not fear exactly, but something close, though oddly pleasurable. I had it when my father took Richard and the baby and me, and Marjorie, to Disney World, and we got into our seats on the Space Mountain ride.

Today is my lucky day, Frank said. Yours too, maybe.

I knew right then, things were about to change. We were headed into Space Mountain now, into a dark place where the ground might give way, , and you wouldn’t even be able to tell anymore where this car was taking you.

If this had occurred to my mother, she didn’t let on. She just held the wheel and stared straight ahead same as before, all the way home.”

 

Ms. Maynard explains that as fiction this novel’s unfolding was

“a rare occasion, where a writer imagines a world in which goodness and honorable behavior might be rewarded and love might carry the day.”

Labor Day , the movie adaptation by Jason Reitman

Labor Day as a movie starred Kate Winslet as Adele and Josh Brolin as Frank.

Once I started reading the book, I remembered the movie, and cannot imagine any other actress portraying Adele; Ms. Winslet  aptly illustrated Adele’s quiet strength as well as her fragility . Young Henry is solidly played by Gattlin Griffith while Tobey Maguire as the adult Henry narrates the story and then appears in the movie’s final scenes.

As I mentioned above, the movie sticks faithfully to the novel. The backstories are not developed as much as in the book which is typical with the time limitation of a movie adaptation.

See below for a spoiler alert if you’ve already read/seen the book/movie, or don’t care about learning the ending too soon.

 

 

Another unlikely romance

Labor Day  reminded me of another book I read and reviewed, about the relationship between a woman, a man, and a boy. I wish it had a movie version ; another book by the same author does, Pay It Forward. Here is my review of

Say Goodbye for Now. 

Thanks for joining me to “celebrate” Labor Day and consider an unconventional  look at life and love in Joyce Maynard’s novel and movie, Labor Day.

You may enjoy some of my other book reviews, find links here.

 

Dr. Aletha, exploring the HEART of books

an open book with pages folded to make a heart

photo from Lightstock.com, affiliate link

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A true life romance also from Joyce Maynard

Joyce Maynard wrote a memoir, THE BEST OF US, about her true life romance which didn’t end as happily as her fictional one did, but did change her life forever. Here is a brief review.

 

Ms. Maynard’s story initially sounded like a  failed marriage/bad divorce saga with adult children torn between the two parents, persistent anger and bitterness, and attempts to ease the pain with a series of bad choices in lovers, followed by a complicated adoption attempt.

Finally we can breath a sigh of relief when she meets a man and seems to have found true love at last. But that comes to an abrupt halt when he is diagnosed with cancer.

From then on she poignantly describes a life turned upside down as she enters new territory as a caregiver. As she relates how their lives changed, we as the readers are changed also, learning to recognize what is truly important in life. As the author admits,

“success, money, beauty, passion, adventure, possessions- have become immaterial. Breathing would be enough.”

Read this book if you want your assumptions about life and death to be challenged and changed.

You can read the prologue of THE BEST OF US .

Spoiler alert: the following section reveals a major plot of Labor Day

At the book’s end,  Joyce Maynard wrote a final piece, “Don’t Try This at Home-How I Came to Write This Novel”, in which she explains why she chose to make an escaped convicted murderer (Frank) a main character in her novel-

Because she herself once struck up a long distance friendship with a man in prison .

She admits,

“I resemble that impossibly romantic woman who drove a man home with her, feeling no fear for herself or her son-though the man had blood dripping down his leg-because she saw in him something of her own wounded self.”

Her convict story does “not have a happy ending” she says,

“it taught me…to trust less and steer clear of the kind of man whose wounds on the outside may be fewer than those within.”

Here’s her story about that encounter

YOUR FRIEND, ALWAYS