I’ve been so busy torching our trash government and crumbling democracy both online and IRL, that it’s been awhile since I reviewed a book.
Having now read 15 pages of the 1976 medical thriller, Coma, by Dr. Robin Cook, I feel well qualified to embark on some more amateur literary critique.
I’m on vacation with my extended family in Maine, and I plucked this off the shelf of the VRBO we’re staying at, because I needed to cheer myself up after absorbing the shock of the impending climate apocalypse in The Unhinhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, by David Wallace-Wells.
I vaguely recognized the cover of Coma from my parents’ collection of late-70’s mass-market garbage, and was hoping that between those covers would be an instruction manual for how to enter a DIY drug-induced coma in the event of an unbearable reality.
No such luck.
The title, it turns out, is a self-referential one about the author, who I can tell you from my quick perusal is quite possibly the least woke man ever to pen a female character (which is saying a lot). Just to orient you, here’s the summary of the novel/“sensational MGM movie starring Genevieve Bujold (‘scuse me who?) and Michael Douglas!”:
They call it “minor surgery,” but Nancy Greeley, Sean Berman, and a dozen others, all admitted to Memorial Hospital for routine procedures, are victims of the same, inexplicable tragedy on the operating table: They never wake up again.
So far, so good.
Some untraceable error in anesthesia has caused irreversible brain death, leaving each of them in a hopeless coma.
Something is very wrong here. And Susan Wheeler, a beautiful young medial student, hazards her life to uncover the horrifying explanation — a plot so ghastly, so far-reaching, so terrifyingly incredible yet so nightmarishly possible, it will leave you suspended in a state of fear.
Putting aside the fact that “never waking up again” sounds like a pretty turnkey solution to the Trump years, the scariest thing about this book is the rendering of main character Susan Wheeler, who—you may have deduced by now—is the young doctor version of “sexy librarian.”
I was thinking about my mom, who had graduated from medical school about five years before this book was written, and the descriptions of Susan being the lone woman at the front of the classroom rang true.
What did not necessarily ring true were the rest of the descriptions of Dr. Wheeler.
When she gets up for work one cold morning: “her circulatory system dissipated her body heat into the cold room, making her nipples rise up from the summits of her shapely breasts,” and “goose pimples appeared out of nowhere along the insides of her naked thighs.”
This happens while Susan is “wearing only a thin, worn-out flannel nightgown she had gotten for Christmas when she was in the fifth grade.” She only wore this comfortable garment when she was “sleeping alone” and was partial to it because it “had always been her father’s favorite,” a man she had “enjoyed pleasing from a very early age.”
UMMMMMMM .... WUUUUUUT.
The human physiology 101 factoid about the circulatory system embedded in cocky graduate student juvenile Daddy erotica is typical of Cook’s style, which name-drops shitloads of technical medical jargon amid mundane descriptions of unrelated circumstances:
“With well-rehearsed adeptness, [the anesthesiologist] attached his Pentathol syringe to the three-way valve on the I.V. line” on another young, beautiful female patient who is receiving (what else) a D&C under a surgical gown that barely reached “up to her hard nipples.”
And that, dear readers, is as far as I got in Coma.