Imagine a Woman and Other Tales

Richard Selzer, Author Random House (NY) $18.95 (229p) ISBN 978-0-394-58535-2
In his previous works, both fiction ( Rituals of Surgery ) and nonfiction ( Taking the World in for Repairs ) surgeon Selzer has proved a perceptive observer of the psychological pressures caused by illness and of a physician's response to the stresses of his profession. The six stories here deal only tangentially with medicine; though the characters range from a woman dying of AIDS to the widow of a man whose heart was donated at his death, it is their emotional health on which Selzer focuses. In most of these tales, his characters' bodies and minds are in a fevered state, investing them with a heightened emotional vulnerability and a sensitivity verging on the supernatural. The two most successful stories, ``Imagine a Woman'' and ``Poe's Light-house'' are related in journal form, in precise, evocative language. Even when his plots are a bit overwrought, Selzer holds the reader mesmerized with descriptions in minute detail: a peat bog with its flora and fauna, and of a man drowning in its embrace (``Lindow Man''); a cave in which ``the whole ceiling began to billow like a tent,'' from a fluttering horde of bats that sweeps past a woman seeking her autistic son who has taken refuge there (``Pipistrel''). His description of a festering dump, as ``an endless evacuation of the waste of a city'' grasps the imagination as Selzer fictionalizes a true incident involving a Brazilian scavenger poisoned by radioactive medical waste, creating a parable of the tragic dichotomy between the high-minded ideals of science and the ignorance resulting from poverty. In widening his range of subject, Selzer proves himself a truly talented practitioner of the storyteller's art. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 10/01/1990
Release date: 10/01/1990
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