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Monday, January 03, 2011
Buy This Book: HEALER by Carol Cassella
I am a huge fan of character-driven novels and character is what Carol Cassella gives the reader in her wonderfully crafted second novel, HEALER. Claire Boehning and her brilliant biochemist husband Addison weren’t born to wealth, but when Addison develops a blood test to detect ovarian cancer, the money comes on suddenly, a lot of it, as quickly as if they’d won the lottery. And they are ill-prepared for it really, for the fairy tale effect that such a windfall can create. That they have been bewitched and beguiled by it doesn’t become apparent until years later, when their daughter Jory, who has been raised in a world of privilege, is an adolescent. Jory and Claire are shopping for Addison’s Christmas present when Claire’s Visa card is denied and she gets her first indication that a seam has ruptured in the beautiful and carefully woven tapestry of her life. Questioning Addison later, it turns out the test results on a new cancer drug he discovered have gone awry and when his backing vanished, out of desperation and without telling Claire, he put up their assets. Now those are gone, without warning. At least Claire had no warning and she’s stunned. How could he have kept it from her? Something so huge?
In a reversal of fortune, the Boehning’s are forced to relocate to a tumbledown house, a fixer, in the mountains of eastern Washington and while Addison shucks his pride and travels around the countryside, basically passing the hat and hoping for new backers, Claire has to go to work. Before Jory’s birth, she was a doctor, or almost. She lacks certification, that and experience. It’s kind of hard to make it as a doctor without these things. But she manages to get hired at a rural clinic that serves mostly migrant workers. There isn’t much money in it; the hours are long, the work grueling. Claire’s skills are rusty; there’s the language barrier and many of the patients are uncomfortable with a woman as a doctor. And when Claire goes home, there’s Jory, who is miserable, confused, and afraid. Yet it is through all of this troubled time that Claire begins to remember who she was and who Addison was before they were wealthy. She wonders whether they can get it back, the precious bond of shared ideals, the treasured love that was once based on honesty and trust.
When on one cold snowy night, Claire stops and gives a Nicaraguan woman named Miguela an old coat of Addison’s, she has no prescient sense of worlds colliding, no sense that whatever there is of her marriage that might be salvageable, will, in the final analysis, come to rest on the outcome of this woman’s mystery, the resolution of the crucial errand that has brought Miguela into the United States. Giving away the coat to someone in need is just who Claire is, who she has always been.
In real life, nothing to do with the medical ethics of this situation or immigrant medical care or the often painful issues of job loss, the loss of pride, a person’s hapless slide in the world, having to admit defeat and that you lied, a struggle to keep a family together, none of this would be easy and it isn’t resolved easily in Healer either. It’s resolved with courage and compassion and terrific writing. I highly recommend this novel. You’ll be surprised at all the rich layers of character and story it holds and at how it turns out. Visit Carol's website.
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