Bringing Out the Dead
Joe Connelly. Random House Audio Publishing Group, $18 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-375-40222-7
As depicted in this strong and literate debut, burnt-out paramedic Frank Pierce spends dark, death-filled nights behind the wheel of an ambulance in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen, where he grew up, fighting chaos in his soul as perverse as the mayhem surrounding him. Scarred by a failed marriage and worn down by the hopelessness of his daily rounds of heart attacks, overdoses and crazies seeking attention, Frank has brought his drinking habit onto the job. But he is unable to blot out the memory of Rose, a young asthmatic who died in his care and now appears to him on various street corners. The ghosts of his own past--his unhappy parents and ex-wife, his childhood playmates, now drunks and druggies--and the death of his aspirations appear to him at every turn in the neighborhood.. When Patrick Burke, a cardiac-arrest victim unwillingly on life support, begins to haunt him, too, Frank struggles to find some sanity in a harmful job he seems unable to quit. Connelly brings an air of authenticity to his rendering of this marginal world, and his compassion for its miserable and impoverished denizens is almost palpable. He deftly renders the frantic but deadpan tension and the black humor of a paramedic's job and of the ER personnel in Our Lady of Mercy hospital, called Misery by everyone. If Frank's voice, plangent with exhaustion, despair and grief, and the circumstances of his disintegrating life are unremittingly depressing, one does not doubt the accuracy of the world that Connelly, who himself was a paramedic, creates with such bleak intensity. 50,000 first printing; Random House audio. (Feb.) FYI: Bringing Out the Dead has been optioned by Martin Scorsese.
Reviewed on: 08/30/1999