Bryson City Secrets: Even More Tales of a Small-Town Doctor in the Smoky Mountains
If you've followed the story of Dr. Walt Larimore's medical practice in the Smoky Mountains from BRYSON CITY TALES to BRYSON CITY SEASONS, you won't want to miss BRYSON CITY SECRETS. This latest installment continues Larimore's enjoyable stories of small-town rural medical practice, and explains why he and his family mysteriously left the small town they loved to move to another state.
In BRYSON CITY SEASONS, we left the Larimore family as they made the decision to leave the Smoky Mountains for a practice in Florida. Here, Larimore sets up his book well by leading off with a phone call from his 24-year-old daughter Kate, who has remembered a terrible incident from her past and wants to be reassured it was just a bad dream. There is just enough information for the reader to guess at what happened --- and what will be revealed in the coming chapters --- without giving it away until the end of the book. This keeps the pages turning, as the book opens with some of the usual Bryson tales.
And they are vintage Larimore: earthy, nostalgic, and often funny. The first three chapters find the doctor called to a murder scene, where a woman is suspected of brutally killing her husband with a butcher knife. Larimore, however, has his doubts when he examines the corpse and then the woman, who is hospitalized and unable to communicate. As the short story comes to its conclusion, he reflects on the darkness of all human hearts and the forgiveness available to everyone through Christ.
He's not Pollyannaish, however, but honest. "Frankly, even though I had prayed for the handyman the night of the crime, part of me didn't want to accept the premise that the Creator of the universe would and could love a murderer as much as he would love anyone else. Why wouldn't God want this man to suffer for the suffering he had inflicted and the life he had taken? Isn't there a certain amount of evil that cannot be forgiven -- that should not be forgiven?" This is a nice foreshadowing of the bigger event to come --- one that will challenge Larimore to forgive beyond what he may find possible.
There's plenty going on in Bryson City besides the occasional murder. Seven-year-old Tommy Shoap shows up in the emergency room near death, but his parents are reluctant to have much medical treatment given. They rely on herbal medicine and backwoods remedies, and don't put much stock in modern doctoring. Blind Dan McGill makes an appointment to see the doctor, but it turns out it's for his guide dog Samson, a golden retriever. He's hoping Larimore will give his pooch a checkup.
One thing that's enjoyable about the series is that Larimore is not afraid to be specific about some of the personal aspects of his cases. One humorous chapter deals with an 18-year-old who is married, pregnant and has a yeast infection. She tells him that she usually treats it with a backwoods remedy, yogurt douches, which work perfectly. However, when Larimore suggests the remedy to another female patient, she uses strawberry yogurt instead of plain yogurt, with interesting results. "One of the reasons they call my profession 'the practice of medicine' is that a doctor's education never ends," writes Larimore.
Although, as Larimore says, "death, despair, and disappointment are the unwelcome callers that come with every physician's battle with disorder and disease," what differentiates this book from his previous installments in the series is the dark backdrop of occult activity going on around Bryson City. The reader will feel the tension unfolding throughout the book right up until the climax, where we discover the "secret" that led Larimore to leave his practice. Readers may have differing opinions about how the difficult situation upon which the story turns was handled, but there's no doubt that Larimore is engagingly vulnerable about sharing what happened to his family with his readers. His willingness to share his family's "secret" may help some readers be more open about their own past "secrets" and find healing.
Just as in the previous books, the stories Larimore spins usually have a devotional-style ending, where a spiritual point is made. The way he sets up his chapters (usually each with its own short story, sometimes spread across a few short readings) makes this book easy to pick up and read short bits at a time. If you haven't read the first two Bryson City books, it's best to do so in order. You'll want to read all three.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on February 14, 2006