The action of Sawbones Memorial occurs in the patients’ lounge of the new Hunter Memorial Hospital; the occasion is Upward’s celebration of Dr. (Doc) Hunter’s retirement after forty-five years of service and the anniversary of his first arrival in the town. Ross’s title deliberately suggests the hospital as tangible testament, the illegitimate son who will succeed Doc, and the reminiscences of characters who recall salient events in the town’s and Doc’s lives. The novel has no conventional linear plot line; it is structured by dialogue, public announcements or speeches, and silent soliloquies, with characters’ repeated preoccupations making them otherwise identifiable. It is their recital or comparison of episodes in Doc’s career, their gossip, as well as their comments on present conditions which intermittently link the story’s episodes—each of which functions as a miniature play for voices. Doc’s clarification and explanations to various interlocutors further fill out the narrative, for Sawbones Memorial is an accumulating revelation of the central character, of his role in the lives of some townspeople, and of psychological disclosure, rather than a strictly chronological plot.
Dialogues about and with Doc reveal a substantial amount about his past role in the community. Harry Hubbs, for example, the former livery stable operator, was reclaimed from his unhealthy living conditions and bachelor squalor to an awareness that his life was going nowhere, to self-respect, and to useful service in Upward. This is the other side of the occasional charge that Doc took care that he got paid for his job, often in kind. He has covered up or redirected indiscretions and unsavory situations, but now...
(The entire section is 712 words.)