Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Healer, by Carol Cassella

Healer is the choice for the One Book, One Broomfield program this year. Written by Carol Cassella, who is an anesthesiologist as well as an author, Healer is Claire Boehning's story. Claire has a medical degree, but she never completed her residency, took her boards, or actually practiced because a difficult pregnancy forced her out of her residency and the thought of a woman who died as a result of Claire's misdiagnosis kept her from returning. And her brilliant husband Addison's work had allowed her to live extremely comfortably without needing to work. The Boehnings had lived in a mansion on Lake Washington in Seattle, purchased with the money they made from selling Addison's revolutionary test for ovarian cancer.

Then, Addison's next project--a chemotherapy drug for colon cancer patients--stalled during the testing process and they lost everything. As the book opens, Claire and their teenage daughter Jory have moved to a rickety vacation property in rural Hallum, Washington, that they had bought years ago but never actually occupied. It's rodent-infested, cold, and not at all what the two are used to. Addison, meanwhile, is trying to raise capital to restart testing on his drug. Given their reduced circumstances, Claire must seek work and eventually finds a job at a clinic that provides care for the poor and uninsured, including many migrant workers.

Healer has many subplots and related themes--a Nicaraguan woman who befriends Jory and Claire is trying to find out what happened to her daughter, Jory is rebelling against her mother and the strictures "poverty" is placing on her, Claire's boss seems to be fading but will not share what his problem is, the wealthy investor who may save Addison's drug may also be involved in shady activities involving testing drugs on unauthorized immigrants. But the central theme is how a woman and a marriage are tested and changed when the easy life obtained through wealth is stripped away and Claire and Addison must confront painful truths.

Although Healer is an enjoyable read, the conflicts in the story were, to my mind, resolved too neatly/easily for the book to have real weight. I also find it a curious choice for One Book, One Broomfield, as it does not seem to be a book that would appeal to many male readers--but perhaps I'm wrong about that. (Sadly, it wouldn't be the first time.)

Favorite passage:
She had consumed her anger by moving forward, pouring so much optimistic fuel into the planning and packing and sorting that any lurking spark of rage blew out as she flew on to the next task. It had taken her months, maybe not until last night, to realize that she couldn't allow her mind to linger. Because then she might discover how much or how little she would ever be able to forgive.

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