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example, he gives us a vivid thumbnail sketch of the author's life. 77ie History of Reading makes an ideal companion to a book with a similar title that we gave high marks to in our last issue—The History of Writing by Henri-Jean Martin. (SM) Ingenious Pain by Andrew Miller Harcourt Brace, 1997, 337 pp., $24.00 This first novel follows the short, peculiar life of James Dyer, born in 1739 without the ability to feel pain. As a child, Dyer is mute, speaking his first word only after breaking his ankle at the age of eleven, and when his first family—after raising him indifferently—dies of smallpox, James begins his long peregrination through dirty, disease-ridden, Enlightenment Europe. On his way to becoming an expert surgeon, he finds himself used as a mountebank 's stage dummy; he is taken in by a rich, hermaphroditic benefactor with a massive, labyrinthine house and a keen eye for the peculiar (here James meets his best friends and first lovers, a pair of conjoined female twins); and is pressed into duty as a ship's surgeon, where, after a battle with the French navy, he sews and amputates with brilliant abandon . His surgical practice, established when he is still a very young man, prospers enough to garner him an invitation from the Empress Catherine of Russia who needs someone to inoculate her against smallpox. On the journey to St. Petersburg , Dyer meets a mysterious woman, perhaps a witch, who cures him of his condition; now able to feel pain, James Dyer lives a brief but rewarding life on earth as a normal man, before dying at the age of thirty-three. It all sounds improbable, to say the least, but Miller seems to have mastered the trick of self-restraint crucial to any historical novelist: he treats the age as off-handedly as we treat our own. The eighteenth century lives here in its lacquered com- . modes, its reeking markets and mud tracks, its casual death and voracious disease. Miller resists the lure of over-packed, over-researched paragraphs that are the death of so much historical fiction; details here flow from life, from the story. One of the doctors in the novel is described as bringing with him "a gratifying air of imminent indiscretion," and it's a description that applies equally to these pages. Life is gory, sloppy, sexy, and short. The effect of this vividness can be a little unsettling at times; nevertheless, the prose is breathtaking. Blood during a bloodletting is seen to "slope" off a woman's arm; an unwieldy hat is "unsuccessful." Miller is obviously unafraid of risk, and because of this, he occasionally misses his mark. Here and there the Christ symbolism is a bit overweening, and some of the scenes from Dyer's childhood are awkwardly made. Dyer himself is a difficult protagonist. Since he cannot feel pain, he is very much removed from the world as we know it, and though Miller makes his way through Dyer's mind with considerable agility, it turns out that pain and suffering are a large part of what makes us interesting to one another; for most of the book Dyer is something like an admirable automaton. 222 · The Missouri Review But so much succeeds in this book: the fascinating (if prurient) scenes of quick-draw surgery (a kidney stone removed in eighty seconds ); the filth of mid-Enlightenment London; the brilliant trip through Europe to St. Petersburg during a snowy winter; the mysterious house of Mr. Canning, the rich hermaphrodite. The end of the book is entirely unexpected, though we know, from the first scene, that Dyer will die young; the last chapters have the lovely quality of a summer river easing itself through a meadow, and strike a sustained note of calm rare in fiction. (MB) Sojourner Truth:A Life, A Symbol by Nell Irvin Painter Norton, 1996, 370 pp., $28 In recent years Sojourner Truth has become as much a part of the American cultural landscape as Malcom X or Nefertiti. Her stern but motherly face appears on everything from Tshirts to postage stamps. The same image always finds its way into...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 212-213
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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