The humor in this novel – of which there is a lot – is as black as the paintings that adorn the walls of the
Rothko Chapel in Houston (which is the city where the majority of the events in this novel take place).
Rothko’s variations on black invite the viewer into somber reflection. Author Don W. Hill’s sentences, paragraphs, and chapters invite the reader into the polar opposite. Fortunately, on purpose. Perhaps no examination of a life in the medical profession has been as darkly outragous as this one since Paddy Chayefsky’s 1971 Academy Award winning screenplay, The Hospital.
Hill’s novel begins in contemporary times but one is not at all sure how long that grounding is going to
last as the protagonist is basically introduced to readers with the barrel of a gun in his mouth; held, I might add, by his own hand. One’s internal debate over whether or not to commit suicide is generally not a subject ripe for jest, however the author finds a way to tickle bibliophiles’ funny bones while he’s simultaneously constricting their airways. Swiftly he segues from an occasionally lonely and perhaps misanthropic doctor of a certain age to the young MD/PhD he once was and thus begins the heart of the story. It is a tale filled with bizarre and outlandish events all recalled through the prism of one who still harbors a degree of guilt for actions taken outside the acceptable guardrails of society. One might see the chronicle that unfolds as a particularly extended foray into navel gazing, and if so, one would not necessarily be wrong. One would be wrong though, to assume that such psychological introspection can’t also be a hoot. Which it is, thanks to Hill’s articulate vocabulary and his ability to turn the seemingly mundane into the rousingly absurd.
From demented doctors who search for Sasquatch, to ruthless robbers who bludgeon hapless nurses, to research romanticists who can’t bring themselves to infect chimpanzees, orangutangs, and gorillas with antigens that might wind up benefiting the human race, Hill populates his pages with characters one won’t soon forget. If the plot meanders a bit, so be it. There are gems to be found in going with the flow.
The writer, who is a doctor himself, proves to be smart, savvy, even kind, by providing a glossary for us laymen unschooled in the mountain of medical lingo that flows from the mouths of his frequently less than pithy physicians. And, as if telling an entertaining tale wasn’t enough in itself, there’s also the fact this narrative promises to continue in subsequent books. Stay tuned. One gets the feeling the good doctor is only getting started.