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“There are only three events that happen once and only once during a lifetime … birth, death, and loss of virginity. You control one of these moments. Give him a good death.” Photo Eddie, a tirelessly committed clinician, is talking to Sophie, a third-year medical student, about a young man with end-stage AIDS in one of Jay Baruch’s Fourteen stories … By the time the reader has reached this 11th story, entitled “Dissections”, however, he would be forgiven for thinking that even in death there is no control. A good death, if it exists, is not often seen.
The 14 fictional stories in this anthology are each written around central, well-developed characters. The afterword, “Narrative’s disaster zone”, is a composite of memory from the writer’s long experience of emergency medicine. All of the stories but one relate in some way to death. Each draws the reader into a dark world typified by nihilism and futility. There is very little joy. The emotional impact is great—the hopelessness and emptiness of the writing dragging the reader, very subtly, into a pit …