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Bringing Out the Dead: A Novel (1998)

by Joe Connelly

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384747,969 (3.76)23
Perhaps only someone who has worked for almost a decade as a medic in New York City's Hell's Kitchen--as Joe Connelly has--could write a novel as riveting and fiercely authentic as Bringing Out the Dead. Like a front-line reporter, Connelly writes from deep within the experience, and the result is a debut novel of extraordinary power and intensity. In Frank Pierce, a brash EMS medic working the streets of Hell's Kitchen, Connelly gives us a man who is being destroyed by the act of saving people. Addicted to the thrill ("the best drug in the world") and the mission of the job, Frank is nevertheless drowning in five years' worth of grief and guilt--his own and others': "my primary role was less about saving lives than about bearing witness." His wife has left him, he's drinking on the job, and just a month ago he "helped to kill" an eighteen-year-old asthmatic girl. Now she's become the waking nightmare of all his failures: hallucination and projection ("the ghosts that once visited my dreams had followed me out to the street and were now talking back"), and as real to him as his own skin. And in reaction to her death, Frank has desperately resurrected a patient back into a life now little better than death. In a narrative that moves with the furious energy of an ambulance run, we follow Frank through two days and nights: into the excitement and dread of the calls; the mad humor that keeps the medics afloat; the memories, distant and recent, through which Frank reminds himself why he became a medic and tries, in vain, to convince himself to give it up. And we are with him as he faces his newest ghost: the resurrected patient, whose demands to be released into death might be the most sensible thing Frank has heard in months, if only he would listen. Bringing Out the Dead is a stunning novel.… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Unrelenting and unstoppable - like an ambulance barreling through Hell's Kitchen driven by drunken medics. And yet, it somehow manages to touch on the depths of the human condition, the madness of the city, and the horrors of a life being surrounded by constant death. A brutally fantastic book. ( )
  Zonnywhoop | Oct 24, 2015 |
This is a work of fiction. Works of fiction have at their disposal poetic license. This author makes the most of that opportunity and establishes multiple themes to explore. The EMTs deal with people who are "dancing with the devil" (p. 144). Sometimes people can be saved, sometimes they cannot. Eventually those ghosts come to reside in the memories and conscious lives of those who are present to witness these seemingly interminable crisis situations. The veneer of religiosity can be deferred to but ultimately the St Christopher medals and Madonna miniature figurines adorning pizza are but signposts to youthful memories and can guarantee nothing for future days. As good luck charms, they are capricious or ambivalent. Frank Pierce at last comes to some closure about his inability to save people. If he does not save all of his ambulance calls, consciously intending to do so from the start, has he unconsciously been guilty of playing a part in their deaths? With no clear absolute method of discerning an answer he concludes the answer must be 'yes'. The EMT Pierce condemns himself as guilty (p. 192) and early on in the book the only reason for saving the select few fortunate ones is that they "give us time and space to forget we are condemned" (p. 153). The culmination of the narrative is that a life sustaining answer cannot be matter-of-fact. The memories of people and their ghosts are as real as Pierce is. He must make peace with them. There must arise a spiritual Pierce who can coexist with these ghostly memories and not solely be haunted by them. On the road to this acceptance Pierce says that he too "is dying but not dead" (p.123). There is a commonality he shares with the voices he hears and the apparitions he sees even though they are alternated by his ex Mona and the dead girl Rose. The fight with partner Tom makes it clear that Pierce must strike a blow that will do some permanent damage to Death or seek to avoid the confrontation altogether (p. 83). An EMT cannot kill Death even if he or she saves lives momentarily. The EMT must come to a working agreement that allows some rest from torment by hypothetical lifesaving variants. The book ends with a metaphysical awareness by Pierce of his own death and that his life has been lived in pursuit of something meaningful. Pierce, who was raised Catholic, ends knowing that he never could have saved the rain-coated Rose. But, by not forgetting her short life, he yearns to be forgiven (for not saving her) and hopes that as long as he remembers her, he will be. This is a work of fiction which offers so much about the universal truths of medical care. I am glad Connelly chose to communicate about the lives that are touched by illness and death as well as the small dedicated groups who try to use technological skill to restore what is able to be restored. ( )
1 vote sacredheart25 | Aug 29, 2010 |
This is an impressive and strong debut work. Although the book came out in 1998, I took a chance on it because its description seemed somewhat interesting. I’d never have picked up this book from its cover alone. The serious eyes staring through a cross on a dark red background looked too much like a murder mystery. When I actually got the book and started reading, however, it exploded for me.

The author was a medic for nine years in New York City. His novel is about Frank, a medic in the mean and frightening neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen in New York City. The book teems with vibrant people and situations and experiences the adrenaline-filled lives of medics at work, all of which is punctuated with delightful dark humor.

Frank makes a most believable lead character. Anyone who has worked in the health field knows the ghosts (literally and figuratively) that surround those who deal with life and death on a daily basis. This comes across well as flashes of some situations never leave Frank’s mind. Feeling burnt out by his job, yet getting a rush from it, he pushes to do the best he can for everyone he treats. Sadly, though, he sometime doesn’t treat himself so well.

I highly recommend this book which provides a meaningful peek into a medic’s life. ( )
  SqueakyChu | Nov 6, 2009 |
Frank Pierce is an EMT soldier in the war zone that is the night shift in Hell's Kitchen in NYC. He is a very good EMT but is just as wounded as some of the patients that he treats. Frank's wounds are the kind of wounds you can't see and are clearly post-traumatic stress syndrome from the nightmare of his job. His fellow ambulance soldiers are crazy, but the reader quickly comes to understand that they have to be to survive what they go through night after night. The book follows Frank through some of these nights with excellent writing and a sense of it-feels-like-I'm-really-there. And as dark as the material is, there are still some laughs due to Frank's sarcastic wit. Good read. ( )
  CatieN | Sep 4, 2009 |
Tough and gritty but ultimately unmemorable. ( )
  cestovatela | Apr 15, 2007 |
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For those who work in the wells of night
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I parked the ambulance in front of Hell's Kitchen walk-up number 414 and I pulled the equipment from the back.
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We pulled up in front of 508, a building that could have been condemned the day they laid the first brick.
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Perhaps only someone who has worked for almost a decade as a medic in New York City's Hell's Kitchen--as Joe Connelly has--could write a novel as riveting and fiercely authentic as Bringing Out the Dead. Like a front-line reporter, Connelly writes from deep within the experience, and the result is a debut novel of extraordinary power and intensity. In Frank Pierce, a brash EMS medic working the streets of Hell's Kitchen, Connelly gives us a man who is being destroyed by the act of saving people. Addicted to the thrill ("the best drug in the world") and the mission of the job, Frank is nevertheless drowning in five years' worth of grief and guilt--his own and others': "my primary role was less about saving lives than about bearing witness." His wife has left him, he's drinking on the job, and just a month ago he "helped to kill" an eighteen-year-old asthmatic girl. Now she's become the waking nightmare of all his failures: hallucination and projection ("the ghosts that once visited my dreams had followed me out to the street and were now talking back"), and as real to him as his own skin. And in reaction to her death, Frank has desperately resurrected a patient back into a life now little better than death. In a narrative that moves with the furious energy of an ambulance run, we follow Frank through two days and nights: into the excitement and dread of the calls; the mad humor that keeps the medics afloat; the memories, distant and recent, through which Frank reminds himself why he became a medic and tries, in vain, to convince himself to give it up. And we are with him as he faces his newest ghost: the resurrected patient, whose demands to be released into death might be the most sensible thing Frank has heard in months, if only he would listen. Bringing Out the Dead is a stunning novel.

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