Reviews (Page 2)

Reviews (Page 2) McGill University

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ALUMNI QUARTERLY - winter 2008
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Home > McGill News > 2000 > Summer 2000 > Reviews > Reviews (Page 2)

The Wedding: A Family's Coming Out Story, Avon Books, 2000, $34.95, by Douglas Wythe, Andrew Merling, BA'89, Roslyn Merling, BSW'86, MSW'87, and Sheldon Merling, BA'53, BCL'56.

Planning a wedding calls for endless decisions: Who do we get to cater? What do we do if the weather's bad? Do we have to invite dreadful Aunt Louise? The same questions arise in The Wedding, but there are other problems to consider. Like what will Montreal's tightly-knit and conservative Jewish community think of a wedding where the happy couple consists of two grooms?

But even before plans start being made, the partners have some of their own issues to iron out. For them, and for their families and friends, the whole process is one of continually confronting situations of discomfort and finding ways to first understand and then deal with them.

From the moment Douglas Wythe surprised Andrew Merling with an engagement ring and a proposal, "all the internecine haggling and negotiations, about everything from the location for our reception to the minutiae of the ceremony, turned out to be conduits through which we would channel our real concerns," says Wythe.

Merling's parents, Roslyn and Sheldon, worried about what others might say, whether the ceremony should be public, whether the couple would kiss after the ceremony, and -- even up to the day of the event -- what to call it: wedding or commitment ceremony? And though they seemed to handle things reasonably well at first, when the deadline came to send a cheque to confirm arrangements, they simply didn't do it.

We learn what each one of the four is thinking because of their decision to write independently. It's intriguing for the reader to see the same event told from several perspectives. What's surprising is that not only are their perceptions of some things entirely different, their recollections of facts occasionally are, too. For example, Andrew recalls phoning his mother at home on Sunday morning to tell her of the engagement, while she remembers that he called his father at work and told him about it. She says her son never told her directly at all.

Basically what the authors experience over the 18 months of preparations is an all-encompassing "coming out" which occasionally threatens to break up one or other of their relationships. But with time and a willingness to keep talking with counsellors, their rabbi and each other, compromises and greater understanding are reached. Love really does conquer all here, and the ceremony turns out to be a positively giddy occasion once the tension dissipates.

The idea for a book occurred to them once the wedding was over, but the authors seem able to resist the temptation to be too revisionist and make themselves look more enlightened than they were. With situations ranging from heart-rending to hilarious, The Wedding is nicely put together and makes for an uplifting read.


The Serpent and the Staff, Picasso Publications, 1999, $9.95, by Jeremy Brown, BSc'72, MCDM'77.

Jeremy Brown's first novel brings us the story of Patrick Farrell, an Irish boy who is orphaned as a teenager and comes to live in Montreal's West Island with an aunt and uncle. He begins university as an arts student at McGill, but thanks to the generosity of a benefactor and as the result of a challenge from the legendary Dr. Wilder Penfield, Farrell becomes a McGill medical student. The author takes us along as Farrell makes his way through his medical rotations and on to a promising career, but also through friendships, personal crises and sexual peccadilloes in 1970s-era Montreal.

Alumni readers will immediately recognize much in the novel, including McGill landmarks like the McIntyre Medical Building and the Strathcona Building -- "the heart and soul of the medical faculty" -- but the surrounding city as well: Mount Royal, the Yellow Door Coffeehouse, Ben's, Windsor Station, the cafés of St. Denis Street and the Main.

Non-medical readers will be less familiar with the mysterious world of doctors, and Brown takes them behind the scenes as Farrell, who cares deeply for his patients, slowly becomes disillusioned with the politics he encounters. The suicide of a patient while he is completing his psychiatric training nearly undoes him, and throughout his career Farrell wonders whether his decision to enter medicine was made because he would have been foolish and ungrateful to pass up the opportunity. Over the course of the novel he must reconcile his doubts and the people who influence him in his decisions include a sympathetic and fatherly priest, an independent young woman determined to pursue an academic career and an ambitious nurse from a wealthy family whom Farrell eventually marries.

Author Jeremy Brown is also of Irish descent and trained as a doctor at McGill, so his descriptions of student life and hospital bedside experiences carry a certain authority. He is able to make the reader understand the medical problems and it's heartening to see how his protagonist applies the Osler model of listening to the patient. Many of the blunders committed by the fictional medical staff occur when doctors ignore what their patients tell them. A problem with Brown's book is that he is not well served by his publisher. There are small but annoying typesetting mistakes throughout, and the word "led" is repeatedly misspelled as "lead." Despite these little glitches and with a first novel under his belt, the author, like Farrell, may now be considering a change of career.


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