Friday, December 26, 2014

Intricacy, complexity, and love?

Oxygen by Carol Cassella

This book cover and title are quite indicative of the story overall. I was utterly fascinated by the intricacies of delivering anesthesia; I never realized just how much is done by an anesthesiologist! Prior to reading this book I assumed an anesthesiologist would simply start "the gas" and then increase or decrease the delivery during the operation. That impression was sooooo wrong! I have met Carol Cassella face-to-face twice now and have been so impressed by her ease of communication and ability to connect; and it is that same forthright straightforward attitude that comes through her writing, particularly in Oxygen, her debut novel. 

I was utterly fascinated by the descriptions of the OR (Operating Room) and interactions among the staff: doctors, nurses, etc. Since I have no direct work experience in the medical professions, this was so enlightening to me. The amount of strict procedures involving the drugs to be prepared for and possibly used before and during surgery are mind-boggling to me, though I'm sure they are, unfortunately, necessary... As I reread bits and pieces of this book to write this review I am struck by the prescience and irony of the following passage:

          "Anesthesia is like aviation--we have backups for our backups, safety nets 
          stashed along the route. Only the human link in the chain comes without an 
          installed flashing red light." (p. 12) 

I am convinced that many times I overlook some of the most obvious "clues" as I read, though I wonder if some of this forewarning does actually register in my subconscious and I'm just well...unaware that it has... Hah! But I digress... Having read Gemini and discussed it with my book club, I am struck by Cassella's skill at interweaving mysteries into her stories alongside brilliantly detailed descriptions. I admit to being mislead as to the identity of the "guilty party" until it was REALLY obvious. I can appreciate an author's skill in accomplishing that! Although there was plenty of guilt and betrayal to go around in this story. 

I could so relate to Marie's inability to "let go" of her own assumed or imagined culpability in the catastrophic events of the OR, particularly with regard to the patient and her family. I appreciated the fact that no one but Joe was cruel enough to ever mention valuing Jolene's life less than any other child's life. I'm uncertain how realistic that might be, but I was appreciative, nonetheless. Each of us born into this world deserves respect and the right to the best life possible.  

Of Joe, Marie's father states, "He strikes me as a man who says a lot less than he says." (p. 244) So...he talks a lot, but really doesn't communicate much information. I do believe that somewhere deep down, Marie was aware, as was her father of something being "off" with Joe. That would certainly explain her reticence in committing to a long-term relationship with him. However, I had never imagined what was really going on with him, or the hospital, both person and institution so willing to commit illegal acts, "throw her under the bus," and thereby save themselves. Boy, oh boy...such betrayal... That is the one thing that has stuck with me so very strongly in the aftermath of reading this book: the betrayal. It was so thorough and so intricately planned. I was literally shaking my head. Yet it was Joe who finally forced Marie to recognize and "live in the now," as Eckhart Tolle would say:

       ...trapped and blind beside Joe, I force myself toward the conscious act of letting 
       go, and wind inwardly closer and closer, tighter and tighter into this moment, this 
       fraction of an instant, this incandescent flicker of time even before the electrical 
       synapse of thinking blisters into a concept of individual being. I exist only now. 
       A now of atoms more vacuous than solid, transiently amalgamated into human 
       before splitting into mineral and water and air, like a personal diaspora, a random 
       dispersion of all that was Marie. The completely profound senselessness of my 
       own existence explodes into its own blissful freedom. There is no impending 
       moment, no past moment, only this one, and without past there is no sorry, and 
       without future there can be no loss. (p. 226) 

For me, this passage is beyond lyricism, on into an even more melodious realm... It also demonstrated for me the power that Marie allowed Joe to exert over her. Although I could relate to these feelings, I think it was at this juncture that I began to suspect Joe of...something. 

I admit to being shocked that hospitals would overwork people making life and death decisions in this way... How can we expect doctors to be sharp enough not to make errors when they have been working 24+ hours with no rest? I rather assumed only Residents were treated this way, and was appalled at that. But hospitals evidently act like any other employers, trying to get by with paying as few staff as possible to handle the workload--with the expectation that each employee will do the work of more than one person. This is not good, in my humble opinion! 

Have you read any of Cassella's three books? What was your reaction? I have now read two, Oxygen and Gemini, and loved them both for their complexity and poignancy. Anxiously anticipating that I'll also like Healer!


  1. Lynne, thank you again for a thoughtful, insightful and in depth review of my novel. You are clearly a close reader--a trait I much appreciate, as I try to add many layers to my writing. The paragraph you've quoted from Marie and Joe's roller coaster ride is, to me, a summary of the book's message. Glad you chose that. Thanks for connecting more readers with more books! There are few more magical matches.

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by, Carol! It is so meaningful for an author to not only comment on my review, but tell me I pinpointed the same underlying ideas as intended for readers! Cool! I have never forgotten your statement during the Gemini book launch at Elliott Bay Book Company that a writer's work is only half done, and not finished until the reader puts his/her own interpretation to the novel. So accurate and so gracious!