Medicine Men

Alice Adams, Author
Alice Adams, Author Alfred A. Knopf $23 (256p) ISBN 978-0-679-45440-3
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Several years ago, Adams wrote a magazine piece describing her bout with brain cancer. Published as nonfiction, it was ""corrected"" in a later issue as fiction. Whatever the provenance of this oddly dyspeptic novel, it covers much of the same territory. When young widow Molly Bonner complains of headaches and fatigue, her symptoms are dismissed by several doctors, and the rare, golf ball-sized malignant tumor in her sinuses is discovered belatedly. In addition to the phalanx of cold, grossly insensitive and obtuse physicians with whom she comes in contact, Molly is also plagued by Dr. Mark Jacobs, a widower who wants to marry her (but whom she dislikes intensely). He bullies his way into taking charge of her care. Add to the mix Dr. Sandy Richardson, the epitome of the arrogant, egotistical, womanizing heart surgeon, who is having an affair with Molly's friend Felicia, and the roster of ""medicine men"" is overwhelmingly negative. That Adams is able to exert her familiar charm, however, even with so downbeat a subject, is to her credit. For Molly, despite her unrelenting bias, is an appealing character, with a sense of humor and an essential joie d'esprit that eventually reasserts itself. Moreover, Adams (A Southern Exposure) beguiles, as usual, in intertwining the lives of all the supporting characters in quite logical ways, and in arranging for nature to punish the chief villain in an ironically appropriate manner. Her greatest strength is the direct summation of character through the small details that only a socially astute writer with a discerning eye would notice. But this blanket indictment of the medical profession is surely not entirely fair, and while it may be cathartic for some, others may find it a bit too bitter to swallow. (Apr.)
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