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Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures

Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures - In these dozen interwoven stories, Vincent Lam charts four characters–Fitzgerald, Ming, Sri, and Chen–from medical school through to the middle of their careers. The focus is as much the personal as the professional, but this is no “Grey’s Anatomy” nor even “E.R.” soap opera; Lam’s language is far too poetic, his characters’ internal lives too rich, to boil the stories down to the romantic triangle and emergency-room drama that nevertheless run through them.The book’s richness owes much to its form. As a novel, the pull of the soap opera may have been irresistable. But these really are stories, each able to stand by itself though gaining much from the echoes that run across the pieces. We are given a chance to spend at least one story in the head of each of the male characters (interestingly, we are never in the head of Ming, the female recurring character, though she does have a solo turn or two), and there are also stories seen from the point of view of non-recurring characters which give us the opportunity to see the quartet from outside as well. By shifting the stories’ voices and tenses, Lam keeps us on our toes, and draws out aspects of the characters that may have been hidden in a more conventional telling.This isn’t just an interior book, though. There is plenty of excitement, too: a midnight medical flight to Guatamala, a harrowing encounter with SARS (the stories occur, for the most part, in Toronto between about 1990 and 2003), an emergency C-section, and enough emergency room chaos to fill a few episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy”. Lam handles these sections as masterfully as he does the slower, more thoughtful passages; the tension is as gripping as that in any thriller.“Bloodletting and Miracle Cures” won the 2006 Scotiabank Giller Prize, Canada’s most prestigious award, in 2006; he has also gained the attention of prominent writers like Margaret Atwood and Sherman Alexie, attention that is certainly well-deserved. A novel, “Cholon, Near Forgotton”, is due out from Doubleday soon, apparently based on one of the stories in “Bloodletting”.