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Long for This World


Long for This World

The first Michael Byers book I ever read was his debut collection
of short stories, THE COAST OF GOOD INTENTIONS, a treasure trove of
delicate stories about the Pacific Northwest (where I was born,
raised and continue to live). I met him briefly at a book fair the
year it was published, 1998, and was fascinated by his approach to
writing, his quiet intentions, and his tale of agents and "book
people" already nagging him to write a novel. It's now 2003 and
that novel is finally here, LONG FOR THIS WORLD, a compassionate
and heartfelt book about middle-class existence in Seattle
in the 1990s, centering on medical ethics and the lengths to which
we will go for the ones we love.

Dr. Henry Ross is a geneticist living in Seattle with his loving
family. Day after day he studies Hickman syndrome, a heinous
medical condition that causes rapid aging and premature death in
children. His wife, Ilse, is going through a midlife crisis,
wondering why she shifted from doctoring the elderly to hospital
administration. Their children are developing lives of their own
--- Sandra with basketball and Darren with young love. Dr. Ross has
stumbled upon a possible cure for the syndrome he has studied his
whole life and weighs the ethics of performing it on one of his
young patients. It could be a gold mine --- not only for the
medical profession, but also for the financial well-being of the
Ross family. However, he could also lose his license and face
monumental legal troubles.

What makes this story so interesting is not the plot per se. That's
not to say the plot isn't important or moving. It does indeed make
the reader want to move from chapter to chapter to more fully
understand Dr. Ross's dilemma and see what will happen to his young
patient. What makes the story so intriguing is the characters
themselves. They are as real as your next-door neighbors or your
co-worker in the cubicle next to you. The reader lives in the Ross
house, learns of their struggles and their happiness, understands
their concerns, cheers them on when they do well, and empathizes
with them when they don't. Some story lines are more involving than
others (Henry and Ilse have stronger story lines and more vibrant
personalities then their children do), but ultimately the novel is
about family --- what it takes to keep this unit together and the
relationships strong and healthy.

Byers, however, writes with such fluidity that the story sometimes
flows too smoothly, like a river without ripples. It certainly
moves forward to its destination and it's a pleasant ride, but LONG
FOR THIS WORLD could sometimes benefit from more ripples and bends
in the river.

Reviewed by Jonathan Shipley on January 22, 2011

Long for This World
by Michael Byers

  • Publication Date: June 9, 2003
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company
  • ISBN-10: 039589171X
  • ISBN-13: 9780395891711