Fifty-one year old Alice Brill awakens one morning knowing
something is very much wrong. She feels it deep in her breastbone
where she has always received terrible news. She knows that what is
amiss is a personal problem, not a worldwide issue. However, she
has no idea what exactly the mysterious foreboding is about.
Naturally, Alice's life isn't perfect. She lost her job as an
editor in a publishing house but has mostly recovered from the
sorrow of that blow. She now finds satisfaction in her work as an
independent book doctor. Her father has slid into senility and
currently resides in a nursing home; her mother is long dead. Alice
and her husband Ev are arguing frequently, with many disagreements
centered on their underachieving, misdirected son Scott. Could her
sudden unhappiness be simply disappointment in her own life? After
all, she had once taken satisfaction in writing fiction, as had Ev.
Both of them have let their art go in order to work at jobs to
support a family.
Alice is particularly intrigued by a novel manuscript she is
editing and becomes more and more fascinated by the author, a young
man in Michigan far from Alice in New York. She finds herself
looking forward to his emails and phone calls. Can this untoward
attraction be the mysterious trouble of which she remains
Alice also wonders if an unresolved puzzle from the past could
contribute to her unease. While delving through the paperwork of
her mother, a published poet, she stumbles across a mystery. Hidden
away, she finds intriguing letters and a poem new to Alice. Could
her mother have had a secret life? As she reads the poem, she
discovers something alarming in her own body. And all the while,
she is constantly conscious of that strange sensation of impending
doom: something is wrong or will soon go wrong.
As time goes by, Alice begins to wonder if she has made up her own
life in a manner similar to times in the past when she wrote
fiction. What is the truth about her existence, and what has she
only taken as reality? If her past as she remembers it isn't
factual, how will she delve into it, since her main link to the
long-ago is her now senile father?
That urgent feeling of impending trouble eventually comes to be
realized in many facets of her life. As her father once would have
said, now she has something to cry about.
Alice continues to be haunted by the locked door in her past --- an
actual physical locked door and a symbolic one. In order to
understand herself and her place in her world, she must find the
key, and yet it eludes her. In the meantime, her complicated, messy
present life surges around her. In her father's rare moments of
lucidity, he seems to offer her brief tantalizing clues. Or does
he? It's impossible to tell given his state of mind, and Alice's
THE DOCTOR'S DAUGHTER is an elegant meditation on the balance
between art and love. It is also an intriguing mystery complete
with subtle twists in the plot. The novel's people are completely
real; Alice is such a sympathetic character that the reader
identifies with her and can't stop reading in order to find out
what happens in her life. This is an engrossing, beautifully
written story, and I recommend it highly.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon (firstname.lastname@example.org) on December 30, 2010
The Doctor's Daughter