"The Queen of Hearts" by Kimmery Martin
I was an almost painfully pragmatic child.
This practicality manifested itself in a number of ways, but the one that's had the most far-reaching impact is in my choice of careers.
As I prepared to exit high school, I decided, quickly and conscious of the repercussions of an overly lofty choice, on being an English teacher.
The rationale for my decision - I knew I enjoyed writing and the related field of reading, but I also knew that I would genuinely suck at being authentically poor.
And I’m not talking like I’m-a-teacher-I-don’t-make-any-money poor. I’m talking I-can’t-afford-to-eat-or-bathe-more-than-once-a-week-and-I’ve-resorted-to-shooting-the-dregs-of-drinks-that-people-abandon-at-the-club poor.
As much as I appreciated the romanticism of it all, I simply knew that I lacked the wherewithal to be a starving artist.
And so I entered college as an English education major, graduated as an English education major and went on to work... as an English teacher.
By in large, I've been satisfied with my choice.
But, on occasion - particularly when I've indulged in a likely unhealthily sizable binge of House or ER or Grey's Anatomy - I wonder if medicine might not have been more exhilarating, more mentally taxing and, ultimately, more rewarding choice.
This novel – like those hour-long dramas which focus on medical procedures but have just enough sex mixed in to keep your eyes from crossing as a result of the complexity of the jargon – made me long for a career that requires the donning of scrubs, the making of complex life-or-death decisions, and the maintenance of a steady hand with a scalpel.
Aptly named, The Queen of Hearts, focuses on the lives and careers of two female doctors, Zadie and Emma.
As the book opens we first meet Zadie, an understandably harried mother of four who works part-time as a pediatric cardiologist and full-time as a figurative cat herder. Her banker husband does little to assist her in her motherly duties, as he works long hours and seemingly constantly travels.
Despite the acknowledged difficulties she faces, however, Zadie seems relatively satisfied with her life – even though it likely differs from the one she imagined during her youth.
Next we meet the other half of our dual protagonist pair, Emma. Mother to one, she works full-time as a trauma surgeon, thanks to the support of her endearing and eccentric husband.
Though the ladies both appear to have it all worked out, the happiness they’ve established in the relatively parallel lives they lead in Charlotte, North Carolina, is threatened by the arrival of Nick Xenokostas, a doctor with whom the ladies have a shared history.
Dr. X, as nicknamed back in the day – a moniker that undoubtedly enhanced his already present enigmatic nature – was chief resident at the hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, where Zadie and Emma received their medical training.
Despite the fact that Dr. X was, essentially, a teacher and Zadie and Emma were students, both girls had a relationship with him that extended beyond the professional.
Unfortunately the close-as-can-be women haven’t been entirely honest with each other in regards to one particular thing – their past relationships with Dr. X and the larger implications that these relationships might have had.
Now, the unexpected and unwanted arrival of Nick in Charlotte threatens to lay the truth bare for all to see.
By moving back and forth between dual protagonists, and backwards and forwards in time, secrets are revealed and truths that threaten the future friendship between these women unearthed.
When I began reading this book, I was – perhaps excessively – enthusiastic.
This avidity was due in large part to the fact that the start of the book was exceptionally well-written. The author’s prose possessed a rare lyricism, allowing the words to wash over the reader and making engaging with the text a true delight.
It was, in fact, quite surprising to learn that this is the author, Kimmery Martin’s, first novel – and that she is, by primary profession, a doctor – as the caliber of the writing itself, including the breadth and creativeness of the descriptions, was truly solid.
The plot, too, was initially intensely engaging.
Containing a mix of procedural details and personal drama, readers were made to feel as if they were thrust into the trauma center and the operating room, making it quite the enjoyable to read – particularly for anyone who even kind of wishes he or she had gone in to medicine.
Though, if this book - and the hospital dramas that are decidedly similar in context and content - are to be believed, there is almost as much collegial co-mingling going on in hospitals as there is life-saving.
It makes sense, really, that those so drawn to the thrill of literally saving someone's life would be equally attracted to the thrill associated with hot, steamy, sometimes verboten, sex.
I mean, I can only assume that saving a life brings a similar adrenaline surge. Being as I've never saved a life - except, perhaps, for the night I spent supervising my college roommate, lifelong best friend as she suffered from the ill-effects of spending an evening in the Happy Room in Amsterdam's Flying Pig hostel - I don't really have the hands-on experience to speak about the matter with any degree of authority.
But my experience with this book wasn’t all rainbow unicats – you know…magical and amazing.
Much to my chagrin, the level of enthusiasm I felt at the start of the text didn’t quite hold up as I continued reading.
The first issue I had – and one that is admittedly personal – was with the author’s clear disdain for people of size.
So, full disclosure, I’m a fluffy lady.
* Actual footage of me engaging in aqua aerobics
And, I’m not laboring under the misapprehension that some people don’t have an issue with fat people.
Honestly, everyone’s entitled to their feelings.
But, when you write a book containing not one, but several scenes in which the protagonist – someone we are supposed to like – says relatively disparaging things about fat people… well… you’re gonna piss some people off.
At first, the negative commentary about people of size was relatively benign. The author would say that the protagonist was treating a patient who was humongous or massive or any other largely unflattering, not-so-medical adjective.
Okay. I mean… this is overlookable.
But then, this happened:
“Don’t even think about getting on if there are more than ten riders,” cooed my elevator when the doors opened to admit me. “There’s only eight of us,” someone hollered as I hesitated. Hurriedly, I tried to decide if a weight-challenged person near the back counted as one or two people.”
Two questions, really.
- Why? Why would you say that? What does the mention of this fat person’s presence on the elevator have to do with the plot? *Spoiler Alert* NOTHING
- Did NO FAT PEOPLE read this book? There wasn’t a cubby copy editor or a formerly portly literary agent or even a morbidly obese acquisitions editor? Obviously not. Because if even one person who has ever had a weight problem had read this book prior to publication, I don’t see how a conversation about removing these mentions – which were as unnecessary as they were hurtful – wouldn’t have taken place.
Another issue that presented itself as I continued to read – the once stellar plot did not maintain its strength.
Somewhere around the middle of this book, the relatively cohesive marrying we had seen between the medical drama and the romantic intrigue began to splinter.
What started out as a rather compelling, inarguable well-penned tale dissolved into a muddled and boring recounting of a love triangle with some medical jargon thrown in for color and flavor.
In the end, this novel did what so many of the medical shows on which I was raised did right before they jumped the shark – it started focusing almost exclusively on the romantic intrigues of the doctors and essentially entirely ignored the element that made them so engaging in the first place, the practice of medicine.
Given that this novel came in with a bang and went out with a whimper, assigning an overall rating is a challenge.
Considering all of the elements, I have to give it a relatively tepid recommendation and a 3 out of 5 cocktails rating.
So, I definitely need to read something that isn’t medical next. And probably not a romance. Want to see what I pick? Follow me, here.
Obviously, the disparaging comments about overweight people in this novel bothered me, personally. What’s something that bothers you when you encounter it in a text? Tell me about it in the comments, below.