Review

A Few Short Notes on Tropical Butterflies

by John Murray



This remarkable collection of short stories is written by a medical
doctor-turned-author. Murray offers dazzling insight into the minds
and hearts of men and women whom we may have thought too cerebral
to have "real" lives --- dedicated physicians and scientists ---
all living private lives of great complexity.

Murray practiced medicine in far-flung places around the planet
before turning to writing. His experiences and acquaintances among
peers and patients were surely grist for the mill that turned out
the eight short stories in A FEW SHORT NOTES ON TROPICAL
BUTTERFLIES. The title story is about an aging surgeon confronting
his own physical and mental frailties as he ponders the strange,
mad life of his grandfather, a famed collector of rare
butterflies.

In "The Hill Station," a middle-aged doctor returns to India, the
land of her parents, to teach in an epidemiology symposium during a
cholera outbreak. Murray shifts the story between her few days in
Bombay and reminiscences of a past love. He artfully captures the
cadences of language, evoking the smells and mannerisms of India
from a clinic in the slums of Bombay to a jostling bus ride through
the countryside in a monsoon storm.

"The Carpenter Who Looked Like a Boxer" is a chilling tale of a man
living alone with his children, trying to put his life back
together a year after his wife left.

"Blue" is short, poignant and as surreal as the conditions on the
Himalayan peak. A man and his comrades are climbing to commemorate
the fiftieth birthday of what would have been his father's last
climb.

"Watson and the Shark" takes place in the Democratic Republic of
Congo during a civil war. The setting is a missionary village where
doctors struggle to deal with the wounded from the surrounding
brutalities. It is the only story that is primarily about doctoring
under difficult conditions and bears the ring of truth and quite
possibly personal experience.

The stories are not all about jungle medicine, but a common thread
among the main characters is their dedication to order,
organization and their professions. Murray delves into the inner
thoughts, hopes and dreams of the men and women who have dedicated
their lives and often their souls to their chosen fields.

Joyce Carol Oates selected the title story for the Best New Voices
2002 fiction anthology. "Blue" and "The Carpenter Who Looked Like a
Boxer" won Murray his teaching/writing fellowship at Iowa Creative
Writer's Workshop. And "The Hill Station" won the Prairie Lights
Short Fiction Award.

Reviewed by Roz Shea on January 21, 2011

A Few Short Notes on Tropical Butterflies
by John Murray

  • Publication Date: March 1, 2003
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • ISBN-10: 0060509287
  • ISBN-13: 9780060509286