Doctors and Women

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Two very different, very trying aspects of modern life are chronicled in DOCTORS AND WOMEN: The first is the difficulty of recognizing and expressing love in a neurotic world; the second is the problem of dealing with death and illness--the inevitabilities with which modern medicine often fails to cope on an emotional level.

Kate Loomis, a well-to-do freelance journalist, is having problems with love in her life: Her uncommunicative mother is ill with cancer, and her marriage seems empty. When she falls for a sensitive, emotionally unstable doctor who is obsessed with his patients, she begins to realize just how shaky the foundations of her life really are. Kate is forced to ask herself why her love for her mother is so hard to express and why her love for her “perfect” husband seems to have faded away. Moreover, is her feeling for Dr. Macklin Riley worth its cost in guilt and confusion?

Macklin Riley’s concerns are weightier: How can a doctor remain emotionally detached from his cancer patients? Should painful treatments sometimes be withheld? What is the human cost of modern medicine’s high-technology miracles?

The different ways in which Riley and another, more practical doctor approach these concerns are the interesting side of the book and the only place where the writing really comes to life. In contrast, Kate Loomis and her problems begin to seem petty and tiresome. Moreover, the book is unrelieved by humor, descriptive detail, or interesting dialogue. Susan Cheever, whose biography of her father John Cheever was a tender, somber masterpiece, has gone beyond somber to stark in this grim tale.