17 March 2010

The Office of Desire

by Martha Moody

Plot (another one courtesy of amazon.com): “Moody stages this sharply observed tale of office relationships gone very wrong at a small Ohio medical practice. When Dr. Will Strub marries office nurse Alicia, he becomes increasingly involved in the local fundamentalist church. That puts him somewhat at odds with his fellow doctor and business partner, Dr. Hap Markowitz, who defines himself as a non-observant, God-fearing Jew. Meanwhile, middle aged office receptionist Caroline begins her own new relationship with a 72-year-old patient named Fred, while Hap devotes his spare time to his seriously ill wife, making office manager Brice literally the odd man out. The slow descent into insanity by one of the characters leads to a tragedy that affects all involved; gay relationships, evangelical fervor, amputation and infidelity all play in. There is a point where loyalty became a sickness, where faithfulness to someone else became a way to destroy yourself, Hap observes, and each of Moody's well-drawn characters embodies that statement in his or her own way. Hap and Caroline alternate with first person narration, which lends Upstairs Downstairs–like shifts in perspective, which can be distracting. Moody keeps things moving, though, and gets the details right, whether adding up emotional balances, Prozac samples or a patient's bill.”

I had a great time reading this book, in spite of its somewhat depressing and often wistful tone. Plots that rotate around personal relationships rather than defining, dramatic events always fascinate me because they so accurately reflect real life. There’s a lot of “drama” in this book for sure: life, death, marriage, divorce, illness, legal problems, etc. But the real heart of the story is the characters themselves and their evolving relationships with one another. The author strikes a solid balance between character development and plot.

Unlike the amazon.com reviewer, I didn’t find the teeter-tottering perspectives distracting at all. I enjoyed reading the different ways Hap and Caroline perceived the same events; Hap is a doctor while Caroline is a receptionist, so there is a wonderful upstairs-downstairs dynamic (reminiscent of Gosford Park and lots of Agatha Christie, actually). Good book.

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