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Book Reviews 159 Richard Selzer, Taking the World in for Repairs. New York: William Morrow , 1986. 239 pp. $15.95. For years, Richard Selzer was a surgeon by day and a writer by night, retiring early and awakening after midnight to write at the kitchen table. From this routine, his works acquired a nocturnal quality, partaking of the immediacy and urgency of his dreams. They were, as he recently described them, his bats and owls and "creatures of die dark." His fifth book, Taking the World in for Repairs, is his first collection of writings composed and completed in die daytime hours. It is a book illuminated by the light of day, not by the luneaqua of die night. While die collection has its dark spots, readers will find a more relaxed Selzer more surely in control of his literary art than in the earlier books. They will find Selzer continuing to discover and to affirm die possibility , place, pain, and joy of love within contexts of illness and death and recovery. They will find him commenting more directly than before on issues of concern to the medical humanist, including the individual patient's right to refuse treatment, the relationship between shamanism and surgery, and "the pathetic belief that the way to heal the world is to take it in for repairs. One on one. One at a time" (p. 239). And they will find Selzer reveling in the mundane, in the building of balconies and in the pursuit of the delights of hand laundry. The range and repertoire demonstrated in this collection are truly and predictably remarkable. The most significant literary essays and stories in Taking the World in for Repairs include "Diary of an Infidel: Notes from a Monastery," " 'The Black Swan' Revisited," and "Tom and Lily." "Diary of an Infidel" is the story of six weeks Selzer spent among the monks of the Abbey of San Giorgio Maggiore just off the shoreline of Venice. It is die record of a search for faith that failed. As he prepares to leave the monastery at the end of die piece, Selzer writes, Already it seems to me diat die Isola di San Giorgio does not exist except as the island widiin myself, that isolated interior place upon which for a brief time I was marooned, and whose every corner I searched for the illumination of faith, and failed, (p. 77) But die search was not wasted. During his stay, he became a kind of window from die outside world into die monastery, teaching the abbot diat "'air and light pass dirough a window in both directions'" (p. 78). Selzer may not have learned to pray, but he learned equally important lessons, that he "can only find happiness in human love" and that he is "skeptical of 160 BOOK REVIEWS great notions such as Mankind or God. It is nature that [he] love[s] and man" (p. 77). "'The Black Swan' Revisited," written "In Homage to Thomas Mann," is one of the collection's key fictional representations of the play of "human love" within the mortal condition. The story, patterned after Thomas Mann's novella of the same title, involves the awakening of a deep, passionate, sexual love into the life of Rosalie von Tümmler, a postmenopausal widow, whose menstrual cycle appears to be restored to her, but actually serves to reveal that she has a fatal cancer of the uterus. The denouement of the story rests upon the fact that she refuses the morphine and radium necessary to deaden the pain and prolong her life. Explaining her choice to her daughter, Anna, Rosalie asserts: "It is cowardice that causes people to wait to die by the doctor's hand. . . . Besides, how lucky I am. That death came to me in the guise of love. To how many is that given?" (p. 111). While it is not the first instance of a patient's rejecting treatment in Selzer's work, it is one of a very few instances in which the physician does not resist or assume the ultimate responsibility. It is Rosalie's choice, made in the full light of understanding her predicament and its implications. A second...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6571
Print ISSN
0278-9671
Pages
pp. 159-162
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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