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Oh, William!, by Elizabeth Strout

1/60 | Started 12.26.22 • Finished 01.05.23 | 3.5 stars

What a quirky little book! Told from the point of view of Lucy Barton, a twice-married write from New York City, we come to learn a lot about he human condition based largely on her interactions with her ex-husband, William. Theirs is a somewhat bizarre relationship, more than cordial, sometimes intimate, and often closed off. When William receives an ancestry kit as a gift, it reveals mysteries and secrets that will rock William and Lucy, and their relationship with one another.

We crave authority. We do. No matter what anyone says, we crave that sense of authority. Of believing that in the presence of this person we are safe.

Lucy frequently recounts histories in an unusual staccato fashion, which makes for a stream of consciousness type of read that won't appeal to everyone. For the most part, I did not mind it. I found it to be interesting to see what present day events would trigger memories and observations. Oftentimes we can only see the truth of our past when looking back at it. Hindsight is 20/20 and all that. While I didn't much like the conclusion of the book - which wasn't a conclusion at all really - I gather that Strout has and will continue to write books about Lucy Barton so maybe she wanted to leave it open ended. Overall, a quick, easy, and enjoyable read at 3.5 stars.

This is the way of life: the many things we do not know until it is too late.

Top Reads

Five Days at Memorial, by Sheri Fink

54/30 | Started 10.12.22 • Finished 12.26.22 | 4 stars

A monster of a book that took me two chunks of time to read (had to take a break to fit in a book club book). This sprawling work covers the five days at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans, Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina. The hospital flooded and lost power, leaving patients, doctors, nurses, and shelterers essentially stranded. The hospital did have a long unused helipad that was eventually used to ferry people to safety, but the time between the beginning of the crisis and the arrival of the helicopters was disastrous. Fink relays the unfolding situation in dramatic and gripping fashion, which kept me turning pages long after bedtime.

Fink's work is somewhat of a marathon, not just because of its length - a whopping 602 pages - but because of its scope. After telling the post-Katrina story, Fink dives into the case against Dr. Anna Pou, a surgeon at Memorial Hospital who was accused of euthanizing several patients towards the end of the ordeal. Drawing from myriad sources, Fink explores the case without bias, telling both sides and never drawing her own conclusion. Accompanying this documentation is a history of bioethics, especially relating to disaster conditions or extenuating circumstances. There are some points where this becomes a bit of a slog, but I think it was worth reading to learn about the many ins and outs of these kinds of situations.

Emergencies are crucibles that contain and reveal the daily, slower-burning problems of medicine and beyond—our vulnerabilities; our trouble grappling with uncertainty, how we die, how we prioritize and divide what is most precious and vital and limited; even our biases and blindnesses.

I actually only heard about this one because Apple TV put out an excellent limited series based on the book. It was so good I knew I needed to read the book. And the show is actually quite true to the book. I'd truly recommend this one for the riveting retelling of those five days and for the exceptional discussion of Pou's case and ethics in general.

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