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The Doctor's Daughter by Hilma Wolitzer
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The Doctor's Daughter

by Hilma Wolitzer

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Hilma Wolitzer's novel, THE DOCTOR'S DAUGHTER, covers a year in the life of Alice Brill, married and the mother of three grown children, as she muddles through what appears to be a mid-life crisis. Downsized out of her job at a major New York publisher, now a freelance editor, Alice is in her early fifties and suddenly has an "uncomfortable feeling" which causes her to examine her life more closely. She begins to question her impulsive "we-got-married-in-a-fever" marriage to Everett Carroll, who was an MFA writing classmate at Iowa when her mother succumbed to cancer. She is plagued by vague "recovered" memories about her father, a renowned surgeon who is now in a mursing home with dementia. Her youngest child, Scott, is unsettled and dishonest, a constant bone of contention for her and her husband. Alice begins seeing a shrink to try to sort out all this stuff. Her husband moves out. She has an affair with one of her writer-clients, a much younger man - a purely 'visceral' cathartic relationship (and maybe even a bit sleazy).

So, yeah, this is a story that really sucks you in and keeps you turning the pages. I had a couple of problems with it though. One is that it is told in the first person; all Alice, in other words, which consigns all other characters to somewhat undeveloped bit parts. The other problem for me is a "visceral" one. Alice's life, from her childhood on, has been one of extreme privilege. Her family was upper class, i.e. wealthy with a capital W. Even her room as a child was once featured in a House Beautiful sort of magazine. She went to private schools and college, the Iowa Writers Workshop, etc. (So, okay, she never made it as a writer, but how many hopefuls ever do?) Her life as an adult continued in the same vein as witnessed by her constant stream of references to "luncheon dates" in trendy delis and very upscale restaurants, vacations to Martha's Vineyard or Europe, regular visits to a shrink, special treatment from doctors, etc. Money has obviously never been a problem. I mean this is a wealthy woman from a wealthy background who is accustomed to going straight to the head of the line. So, although I did love the story - Wolitzer is a wonderful writer - as it progressed I began to dislike Alice Brill. I mean, she had a good husband, two of her kids were doing fine, and two outa three ain't bad, ya know? Then, because she has this uneasy feeling about things, she drives her husband out of the house and then cheats on him. I mean, what the hell, Alice? Are you crazy?

And maybe that's the real point of all this. A bit of mid-life craziness. And if you're rich, you can afford it. And I know, I know. This is a purely subjective reaction on my part. My own very middle-class upbringing showing. But there it is, okay?

One of the jacket blurbs, from another writer I guiltily admire, Elizabeth Berg, calls the novel "lovely ... intelligent, perceptive and rich." And I agree, but it's the "rich" that stood out for this middle class Midwest kid. Another favorite writer of mine, Pulitzer winner Elizabeth Strout, calls the book "intensely readable." Again, I agree completely. I had trouble putting the book down, but by the time I was halfway in, the attraction was becoming more and more like watching a train wreck. I kept wondering what the hell are you gonna do next, Alice?

Enough said. It really was a gripping read. But Alice? You need to finish growing up, lady, and learn to appreciate what you have. A very non-objective and unprofessional comment, I suppose, but maybe it's testament to how well Hilma Wolitzer can draw you into her fictional world. I'm not done reading Wolitzer. She's just too damn talented to dismiss. So I'll say this about THE DOCTOR's DAUGHTER: highly recommended, but you po' folks beware - unless you're fans of those so-called 'reality' shows about the Housewives, then you'll probably eat this up. Aw hell. I LIKED the book, okay? The BOOK, not the narrator. ( )
  TimBazzett | Jun 4, 2014 |
bah
  federin31365 | Sep 15, 2008 |
Good ( )
  brsquilt | Aug 31, 2008 |
alice feels something is wrong in her chest. A fired editor she now does side work, helps a young Michael edit book. Father in nursing home....therapy for her....flashbacks....her mother a published poet.....was she having an affair with publisher? nicely tied up by the end and a good read. ( )
  hammockqueen | Jul 31, 2008 |
A writer/editor comes to terms with her family history and the fallibility of memory. One morning Alice Brill awakes with a sudden awareness that something is wrong. In her voyage to discover the cause of her feeling, she questions her writing/career, her marriage, her family, her friendships, and eventually accepts that life is never as perfect as it appears. Very well-written. I enjoyed the interplay between memory and reality. ( )
  gwendolyndawson | Mar 29, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345485858, Paperback)

In her first work of fiction in more than a decade, award-winning novelist Hilma Wolitzer brilliantly renders the intimate details of ordinary life and exposes a host of hidden truths. The Doctor’s Daughter is a haunting portrait of a woman coming to terms with her family history and the fallibility of memory.

One morning, Alice Brill awakes with a sudden awareness that something is wrong. There’s a hollowness in her chest, and a sensation of dread that she can’t identify or shake. Was it something she’s done, or forgotten to do? As she scours her mind for the source of her unease, she confronts an array of disturbing possibilities.

First, there is her marriage, a once vibrant relationship that now languishes stasis. Then there’s her idle, misdirected younger son, who always needs bailing out of some difficulty. Or perhaps Alice’s trepidation is caused by the loss of her career as an editor at a large publishing house, and the new path she’s paved for herself as a freelance book doctor. Or it might be the real doctor in her life: her father. Formerly one of New York’s top surgeons, he now rests in a nursing home, his mind gripped by dementia. And the Eden that was Alice’s childhood–the material benefits and reflected glory of being a successful doctor’s daughter, the romance of her parents’ famously perfect marriage–makes her own domestic life seem fatally flawed.

While struggling to find the root of her restlessness, Alice is buoyed by her discovery of a talented new writer, a man who works by day as a machinist in Michigan. Soon their interactions and feelings intensify, and Alice realizes that the mystery she’s been trying to solve lies not in the present, as she had assumed, but in the past–and in the secrets of a marriage that was never as perfect as it appeared.

Like the best works of Anne Tyler, Sue Miller, and Gail Godwin, The Doctor’s Daughter is private yet universal, luminous and revelatory–and marks the reemergence of a singular talent in American writing.


From the Hardcover edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:12 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"One morning, Alice Brill awakes with a sudden awareness that something is wrong. There's a hollowness in her chest, and a sensation of dread that she can't identify or shake. Was it something she'd done, or forgotten to do? As she scours her mind for the source of her unease, she confronts an array of disturbing possibilities." "First, there is her marriage, a once vibrant relationship that now languishes in stasis. Then there's her idle, misdirected younger son, who always needs bailing out of some difficulty. Or perhaps Alice's trepidation is caused by the loss of her career as an editor at a large publishing house, and the new path she's paved for herself as a freelance book doctor. Or it might be the real doctor in her life: her father. Formerly one of New York's top surgeons, he now lives in a nursing home, his mind gripped by dementia. And the Eden that was Alice's childhood - the material benefits and reflected glory of being a successful doctor's daughter, the romance of her parents' famously perfect marriage - makes her own domestic life seem fatally flawed." "While struggling to find the root of her restlessness, Alice is buoyed by her discovery of a talented new writer, a man who works by day as a machinist in Michigan. Soon their interactions and feelings intensify, and Alice realizes that the mystery she's been trying to solve lies not in the present, as she had assumed, but in the past - and in the secrets of a marriage that was never as perfect as it appeared.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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