I intended to finish this on my iPad using the iBooks app late Tuesday night right before going to bed, but I kept falling asleep; instead I completed it the moment I woke up at 5:45am the next morning.
2) Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell
Josh Bazell's first book has an awesome premise: a Manhattan doctor in the Witness Protection Program has to deal with his past life as a mob hitman. It also really delivers.
Before I really get into it, let's discuss a pet peeve I have about the iBooks application for the iPad. I love endnotes and footnotes in novels. The first time I ever saw their true potential in David Foster Wallace's Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, my world was flipped upside down. Josh Bazell uses them very well here, too: either to punctuate a joke or give an extended medical description of something that may or may not have fit in the regular text. Endnotes in a digital format would appear to be problematic, but the iBooks application does this really cool thing where each endnote is an interactive link that takes the reader right to the corresponding note's location. Said note also has a link that takes you back to the paragraph where the link is located. This is a good thing. Unfortunately, these links are denoted with asterisks that are so tiny that I literally missed at least ten of them throughout Beat the Reaper and only noticed it when an asterisk that I didn't miss landed me to a point far beyond where the last one took me. Make those links more prominent, iBooks! It makes me frightened to start reading Infinite Jest given how important they are there.
There's so much that works with this novel. I found it engrossing, the voice distinct and many of the characters, with the exception of the love interest of the main character, to be fully realized and fleshed out. Bazell earned his MD from Columbia University after getting his BA in English from Brown, making him not only a guy that I despise for accomplishing more than I have but also someone apt to put his medical knowledge to work in graphically interesting and sometimes disturbing ways. The chapters switch between the main character's pre-Witness Protection life and post-medical school time and deals with what happens when the former finally collides with the latter. It's an old convention but one that Bazell navigates well.
Pietro Brnwa (a.k.a. Dr. Peter Brown) has a cynical take on the world and the medical profession that I found refreshing. While he knows he's serving a penance for his time as a hitman by working at Manhattan Catholic, he still recognizes that there isn't any real glamour in what he does, either in the mob chapters or the present-day doctor chapters. It could be really easy to hate Brnwa/Brown because he does a ton of reprehensible things and deludes himself with a code of honor, but the book paints a picture of a guy who acknowledges that he's not perfect and is aware of how he deludes himself, which makes him a lot more sympathetic than I would have expected.
I hope Bazell's second novel measures up to this one. I'd also like to see him revisit Peter Brown again, even if it appears that the character has run his course at the end of this novel.
Finally, this book, while great, has some incredibly vulgar language and situations, as well as some very graphic violence. Please keep that in mind when deciding whether or not you want to read it yourself. Students, I'm looking at you.