A few years ago I happened upon the novel Oxygen by Carol Cassella, a debut author. I loved, loved, loved Oxygen and was unable to put it down. This past spring I read somewhere that Cassella's second novel, Healer, was going to be published. I wanted to read it so badly that I did something I have never done before - wrote the author begging for a copy to review. And Cassella was so very nice, quickly replying and explaining that all the ARCs were gone, but she would have her publisher send me a book when they came out. And while I didn't really doubt that she would pass my name on, I have been promised books before that never materialized. Healer arrived a few weeks ago and has been calling my name ever since.
I had intended to read it during my runs on the treadmill, savoring it as I read it slowly. However, while I started it on the treadmill, it immediately became my main read as I devoured it in the course of one day.
Healer is like Oxygen in some ways - well written, hard to put down, women's fiction, focusing on an ethical issue in medicine. Yet, the two books are also very different. Oxygen (at least from my memory) was more of a mystery. And while there is suspense in Healer, the story centered around relationships and life changes as Claire and her family had to re-evaluate the decisions they had made in the past and the lifestyle they chose to lead.
Claire and her husband Addison are the parents of a daughter, Jory. Claire never finished her residency having to take time off for bedrest during her pregnancy. Yet, there is something more that kept her from finishing up her degree. And, Addison, who loved research and never dreamed of striking it rich did just that, developing some new and miraculous drugs, which has allowed Claire the privilege of not having to work. Suddenly (at least it seems that way to them) the money that seemed to be in endless supply dries up as Addison's research uncovers some serious side effects of his new drug in mice. The family moves out of their Seattle mansion and into their vacation home in a rural are of Washington. Jory is unhappy with the move, and while Claire tries hard not to blame Addison for their fate, there is still a bit of bitterness about their new and more humble circumstances. Claire also finds employment at a clinic that has been opened for the migrant workers. Claire enjoys her job, and learns a lot about medicine and also about the lives of migrant workers. One woman, Miguela, who Claire meets in town is especially curious to Claire. As Jory also comes to know the woman, Claire invites her into their home, not expecting the way in which Miguela will influence her family's future and Addison's career.
A great portion of this novel is spent exploring the decisions Claire and her family have made - the way in which money is spent as though it is water, the excessive overconsumption that made me want to dislike Claire. Yet, despite these flaws, Claire comes across as a decent person- although perhaps not very aware of how the "real world" lives. Her work in the clinic puts her in a position to finally see what really matters in life, and even as she is trying to find a way for her family to get back to their idea of "normal" and return to Seattle I continued to hope for a realization on Claire's part - to finally see all that they do have. Addison spends much of the novel working toward restoring their former life, and it takes a lot for him to realize that the past is past.
While I knew from early on that there was something Claire was not revealing about why she didn't finish her residency, I didn't know where Cassella was going with this story, never seeing in advance the way in which Miguela's story is connected to Addison and his research. Even though I needed to put this book down this morning to get ready for work, I kept right on reading, unable to wait until this evening to finish it up. Instead I raced through until the ending, barely getting myself ready to leave our house on time. Healer is an entirely absorbing sophomore novel by a gifted writer already working on her next book.