The Doctor Stories

Richard Selzer, Author Picador USA $25 (352p) ISBN 978-0-312-18687-6
Only two stories in this collection of 27 tales and essays are new, but they and the lengthy introduction offer a good sampling of both the strengths and flaws of Selzer's prose. The tone is set in the discursive, self-conscious introduction when the former surgeon declaims one time too many that he is not a genius. He also admits that ""The language is as far from the Minimal as you can get."" Indeed, it is this tendency toward verbal overload, the use of fustian flourishes and arch literary allusions, that prevents many of these tales from achieving their potential. Selzer's insights into human nature, especially in moments of trauma or grief, are often profound, and his precise articulations of the workings of the human body are at all times arresting. There are some resonant metaphors in all these short narratives: ""His words were ivory balls that rolled through her one into the other, setting up echoes, clicking."" But Selzer often destroys the effect by exaggerating his characters' emotional responses. In ""Avalanche,"" a story of a woman's doomed love for a gaucho in a remote corner of the Argentinean pampas, the menace and mystical premonitions are forced and overwrought. ""Angel, Turning a Lute,"" is a story within a story that is an admirable exercise in style whose elements do not fuse. On the other hand, many of the other tales, compiled from four previous collections (Confessions of a Knife, etc.), are trenchant and moving. In the end, this uneven collection impresses readers with the author's perceptions of the fine line between good health and sudden death, daily life and tragedy, and the capacity of people to deal with the deepest traumas and to survive with dignity. Rights: Georges Borchardt. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 08/03/1998
Release date: 08/01/1998
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 400 pages - 978-0-312-20403-7
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