The Doctor's Daughter

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"One morning, Alice Brill awakes with a sudden awareness that something is wrong. There's a hollowness in her chest, and a sensation of dread that she can't identify or shake. Was it something she'd done, or forgotten to do? As she scours her mind for the source of her unease, she confronts an array of disturbing possibilities." "First, there is her marriage, a once vibrant relationship that now languishes in stasis. Then there's her idle, misdirected younger son, who always needs bailing out of some difficulty. Or perhaps Alice's trepidation is
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2006-03 Audio CD Very Good EXCEPTIONAL SET OF 8 UNABRIDGED EX/LIBRARY CDS IN LN CLAMSHELL CASE. DISCS SHOW A SM AMT OF LIGHT SURFACE SCRATCHES THAT DO NOT AFFECT SOUND QUALITY. ... 9.15 HRS PLAYING TIME, READ BY ANNA FIELDS. SOME LIBRARY MARKINGS. ALL OF OUR ITEMS ARE GUARANTEED. Read more Show Less

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2006-03 Audio CD Fair Unabridged audiobook on 8 CDs, narrated by Anna Fields. Approximately 9.25 hours. ISBN 0792739132; Sound Library, BBC Audiobooks America. Ex-lib with ... typical markings. Haunted by the feeling that something in her life is not right-manifested as a physical pain in her chest-Alice Brill begins to examine her life in a search for answers. "The moment I awoke I knew that something was terribly wrong. I could feel it in that place behind my breastbone, where bad news always slides in like junk mail through a slot. It was there that I first acknowledged my parents would die someday ("Oh, sweetheart, but not for such a long, long time! "); where I knew I was ugly and would never be loved; where I suffered spasms of regret about my marriage and my children, and fear of their deaths and of my own. God knows there were plenty of things wrong in the larger world I could easily have named, and that aroused a similar sense of dread, but whatever was lodged in my chest that April morning was pers Read more Show Less

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Doctor's Daughter

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Overview

"One morning, Alice Brill awakes with a sudden awareness that something is wrong. There's a hollowness in her chest, and a sensation of dread that she can't identify or shake. Was it something she'd done, or forgotten to do? As she scours her mind for the source of her unease, she confronts an array of disturbing possibilities." "First, there is her marriage, a once vibrant relationship that now languishes in stasis. Then there's her idle, misdirected younger son, who always needs bailing out of some difficulty. Or perhaps Alice's trepidation is caused by the loss of her career as an editor at a large publishing house, and the new path she's paved for herself as a freelance book doctor. Or it might be the real doctor in her life: her father. Formerly one of New York's top surgeons, he now lives in a nursing home, his mind gripped by dementia. And the Eden that was Alice's childhood - the material benefits and reflected glory of being a successful doctor's daughter, the romance of her parents' famously perfect marriage - makes her own domestic life seem fatally flawed." While struggling to find the root of her restlessness, Alice is buoyed by her discovery of a talented new writer, a man who works by day as a machinist in Michigan. Soon their interactions and feelings intensify, and Alice realizes that the mystery she's been trying to solve lies not in the present, as she had assumed, but in the past - and in the secrets of a marriage that was never as perfect as it appeared.
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Editorial Reviews

Dawn Dzal
To make a detective story out of nothing more than a hollow ache in someone's chest takes a good deal of skill. Ultimately, the mystery is Alice's to solve, but Wolitzer also addresses the greater mystery that literature is peculiarly well suited to explore: the stubborn rebirth of our hopes from sorrow and disillusionment.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
A keen observer of the drama inherent in family dynamics, Wolitzer (Ending; Hearts; etc.) returns after a 12-year hiatus with this novel about Alice Brill, a 51-year-old wife, mother, frustrated writer and "book doctor" who wakes one morning with a disturbing pressure behind her sternum. The daughter of a once renowned but now senile surgeon, Alice initially thinks her symptom might be a sign of breast cancer, which took her mother's life 30 years before. Or could it be psychological: a reaction to being downsized as senior editor at a book publisher? or a premonition that the recent squabbling with her husband, Everett, signals a point of no return in an often competitive marriage? Is it unfulfilled creative impulse? In her attempt to diagnose her symptom, Alice scours her childhood relationship with her then imperious father, her mother's poetry, Everett's motivations for harshly disciplining their youngest son, and her own unexpectedly erotic response to a talented new writer who comes to her for advice on his first novel. With her customary grace and perspicacity, Wolitzer reveals her characters' humanity as they alternately flirt with and shun the very truth they seek about themselves, until escalating complications force them to choose to grow or be left behind. (Feb. 28) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The doctor's daughter has aches of her own. Another triumph for Wolitzer; see -review, p. 70. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Coming off a 12-year hiatus, Wolitzer (Tunnel of Love, 1994, etc.) plows familiar territory in a domestic drama of love, art and secrets. Alice Brill awakes one spring morning with a vague sense of unease that may or may not have to do with her parents, her failed career as a writer, her troubled marriage, her wayward son or her work as a "book doctor," someone who diagnoses and surgically alters other people's writing. Her father, once the brilliant and well-respected chief of surgery at a New York hospital, has turned, due to age and Alzheimer's, into a shadow of his former self that Alice can no longer worship. Her own form of doctoring gives her a sense of satisfaction she can't quite seem to share with husband, Ev, whose stalled writing career is as constant as a toothache, or youngest son Scott, who has problems with money and responsibility. As her marriage starts to unravel, Alice finds herself drawn more and more to the mysterious author of a hypnotic work of fiction. Alice ultimately uncovers the truth about her parents' marriage and her own misplaced expectations even as her father's memory begins to fade entirely. In order to breathe life into her world, she must work to put aside the past. Physician, heal thyself. Tidy and predictable.
From the Publisher
“A wonderfully fluent blend of intelligence, tenderness, and vitality. [The Doctor’s Daughter] fearlessly explores the difficult terrain of the family romance and the unromantic decisions we all make as we try to make sense of our lives and our memories.”
–Mary Gordon

“The Doctor’s Daughter marks Hilma Wolitzer’s much-anticipated return to the world of fiction. It is a beautiful tale of coming apart and reconciliation.”
–A. M. Homes

“An exquisitely nuanced novel that brilliantly examines one of the abiding truths of the human condition: the quest for self never ceases. Hilma Wolitzer’s new novel is just cause for celebration, as it shows her at the peak of her prodigious powers.”
–Robert Olen Butler

“Hilma Wolitzer’s characters are as real as the people next door. And, oh, the eye and ear at work here! The Doctor’s Daughter is a book I both admired and devoured.”
–Elinor Lipman

“To read Hilma Wolitzer is to laugh in a special way and to allow yourself little intermissions of sheer satisfaction in which you lay the open book facedown on your heart and snuggle with the human race. The Doctor’s Daughter is her masterpiece.”
–Gail Godwin

“This intensely readable book unfolds so gracefully that we are hardly aware of the many layers of the journey on which it takes us.”
–Elizabeth Strout

“Hilma Wolitzer’s The Doctor’s Daughter reminds us what novels can do. She takes a simple, touching, human situation and enlarges it into a heartbreaking and permanent story of loss and renewal.”
–Adam Gopnik

“This is a lovely novel–wonderfully well written, intelligent, perceptive, and rich.”
–Elizabeth Berg

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780792739135
  • Publisher: Sound Library
  • Publication date: 3/28/2006
  • Format: CD
  • Product dimensions: 7.12 (w) x 6.54 (h) x 1.58 (d)

Meet the Author

Hilma Wolitzer

Hilma Wolitzer is the author of several novels, including Hearts, Ending, and Tunnel of Love, as well as the nonfiction book The Company of Writers. She is a recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, and an Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. She has taught writing at the University of Iowa, New York University, and Columbia University. Hilma Wolitzer lives in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

The Doctor's Daughter


By Hilma Wolitzer

Random House

Hilma Wolitzer
All right reserved.

ISBN: 034548584X


Chapter One

The moment I awoke I knew that something was terribly wrong. I could feel it in that place behind my breastbone, where bad news always slides in like junk mail through a slot. It was there that I first acknowledged my parents would die someday ("Oh, sweetheart, but not for such a long, long time!"); where I knew I was ugly and would never be loved; where I suffered spasms of regret about my marriage and my children, and fear of their deaths and of my own. God knows there were plenty of things wrong in the larger world I could easily have named, and that aroused a similar sense of dread, but whatever was lodged in my chest that April morning was personal, not global. I knew that much, at least.

Was it something I'd done, or forgotten to do? There was a vague suggestion of amnesia, of loss, but when I tried to pin down its source, it proved to be elusive, a dream dissolving in daylight. In fact, I'd had a dream just before waking, but the content was obscured by a kind of white scrim. The only thing I could remember was the whiteness. And I couldn't discuss any of this with Everett--we'd quarreled again the night before and were being stonily polite. And what if my awful feeling turned out to be about him?

So I put it all aside while we ate breakfast, chaperoned by CNN and the Times, and chatted about Iraq and the weather and the eggs on our plates. I told myself that this was what long-married people do, even when things are good between them. Then I had a flash of my parents in their nightclothes, slow-dancing to the radio in their Riverdale kitchen.

After Ev left for work, I grabbed my bag and left the apartment, too. I had to go to the bank, and then I was going to buy a sandwich and sit near the East River to read manuscripts. Maybe the bank would be my last stop--it wasn't safe to walk around this crazy city with that much money.

Our doorman and the doorman from the building next door were outside in the sunlight, taking a breather from the bell jars of their lobbies. It must have rained the night before; the drying pavement gave off that sour-sweet musk I love, and up and down York Avenue, the ginkgo and honey locusts were suddenly, lushly budding. At fifty-one and with everything I knew, I was still such a sucker for spring. I probed for that sensitive spot in my chest as I walked, almost jogged, along in my jeans and Reeboks, outpacing kids in business suits, and it seemed diminished by then, practically gone. It probably really was only the residue of a bad dream.

Outside Sloan-Kettering, patients tethered to their IVs were smoking, the way my girlfriends and I used to smoke near our high school, looking furtive and defiant at once. My father drove by in his Lincoln one day and caught me. "Alice!" he yelled. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

"Oh, shit," I muttered, feeling my face and neck blotch, that curse of redheads. I dropped the cigarette--a stylish, mentholated Kool--and tried to make a run for it. But he grabbed my arm and pulled me into the car, where he bellowed and shook me, while my friends gaped at us through the tinted windows as if we were fighting fish in an aquarium.

It was the worst thing I could have done; my father was a surgeon, the venerated chief of surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital. He drove me directly there that day, and waved lurid photographs of cancerous lungs in my face, and made me look through his microscope at cells gone amok, like adolescent girls.

That wasn't the first time I'd disappointed him. I wasn't a boy, to begin with; I wasn't even the next best thing, a girl with an aptitude for science. And I didn't look like my mother. That day in the lab, I gravely promised him I'd never smoke again. "Daddy, I won't, I swear," I said. "I don't even like it." I think I even coughed a few times, for dramatic effect. Sin upon sin. In truth, I loved smoking, the deliciously acrid taste and how worldly I thought I looked with a cigarette drooping from my ragged, ink-stained fingers.

I was fifteen years old then and I still called him Daddy. I never stopped calling him that. And my Mother was "Mother," always, like the benevolent queen in the Grimms' fairy tale "The Goose Girl," which she often read to me at bedtime. I'm still haunted by its recurring lament:

Alas! Queen's daughter, there thou gangest.

If thy mother knew thy fate,

Her heart would break with grief so great.

As a child, I didn't really get all that archaic usage, or other words in the story, like cambric and knacker. But listening to my mother read "The Goose Girl" aloud as she lay next to me at night initiated my lifelong romance with language. The plot was electrifying, with its drama of switched identities, talking drops of blood, and a decapitated horse's head (also verbal), more than a century before Mario Puzo. And the message, that children, especially girls, are responsible for their mothers' happiness, was profound and unsettling. I became determined never to break my mother's heart, any more than I would break her back by inadvertently stepping on a sidewalk crack. And I meant to keep my promise to my father about not smoking again.

Passing the Mary Manning Walsh home at 71st Street, I thought of him, imprisoned since early winter in that other place, the one he'd always called, with a theatrical shudder, the "Cadillac" of nursing homes. "I'd rather be dead, Alice," he once said, pointedly, as if he were extracting another, unspoken promise. The Hebrew Home for the Aged isn't very far from the house where we once lived, although since his confinement my father didn't remember that proximity or appreciate the sad irony of it. He didn't remember a lot of things, including me most of the time, a likely source of misery in any grown child's breast. But somehow I knew it wasn't the source of mine. Maybe that was because I'd had several months to deal with the gradual death of my father's personality, a dress rehearsal for the big event.

Occasionally, he would still ask after my mother. "And how is Helen?" was the way he'd put it, a ghost-like version of his old courtly self. The first time he asked, I was so dismayed I couldn't speak. After that, I tried telling him the truth, but he always received it as fresh, agonizing news, and he'd grieve for a few awful moments before he went blank again. I couldn't keep putting him, and myself, through that, so I began to simply say, "She's fine." But once I saw him flinch when I said it, and I amended my lie to reflect his absence from home. "Getting along as best she can, Daddy," I said.

"But who's taking care of her?" he asked, with the perseverance of demented logic.

The worms, I thought, but I said, "Why, I am. And Faye, of course." And he finally sank back in his wheelchair, assuaged. Faye had been our family's housekeeper during my childhood--if he could bend time, well, then so could I. As I crossed East End Avenue to enter Carl Schurz Park, I realized that I hadn't visited my father in almost two weeks. I had to go and see him soon, but not on such a perfect day.

There was the usual pedestrian parade in the park. Runners went by wearing wristbands and earphones. Babies were being pushed in their strollers and the elderly in their wheelchairs, like a fast-forwarded film on the human life cycle. The pigeons paced, as if they'd forgotten they could fly, and dogs circled and sniffed one another while their owners, in a tangle of leashes, exchanged shy, indulgent smiles.

The homeless man who screamed was quietly sunning himself on my favorite bench, so I sat a few benches away, next to a woman absorbed in a paperback. I glanced at the cover, expecting a bodice ripper or a whodunit, but she was reading Proust, in French. Touche. The river glittered and flowed on the periphery of my vision as I took the manuscripts out of my bag. I was sure they would distract me from whatever was worrying me; they always did, even when I knew what was on my mind. There were four new submissions that day, three nonfiction proposals and a few chapters of a novel in progress. I began to read, and quickly set aside, the first three submissions. After all this time, I can usually tell before the end of the first paragraph if a writer has any talent.

My training began in 1974 at the literary publishing house of Grace & Findlay, where I mostly answered the phones, typed and filed for the editors, and read through the slush pile. It was only a summer internship, between Swarthmore and an MFA, and before I knew it some lowly reader at another publisher was going to discover my novel in their slush pile and make me rich and famous. That never happened, though. All I ever received were standard letters of rejection, the ones that say "Thank you for thinking of us, but your manuscript doesn't meet our needs right now," with the hidden subtext: This is precisely what we hate. Do try us again when hell freezes over.

A few years later, I joined the enemy, becoming an assistant editor at G&F, and I was still there, in a senior position, last June, when they merged with a multinational communications group and let me go. I understood that my firing was merely a fiscal matter, and I saw it coming, like a storm darkening a radar screen. But I felt shocked and betrayed anyway, even with the generous severance package.

At first I missed everything about my job--the physical place, my colleagues, my daily sense of purpose, and especially the work itself--with an ache akin to mourning. I decided that this was what it would be like to be dead, but still hovering restlessly at the edges of the living world. There were a few job offers at less prestigious houses, with lower pay and reduced status, and I swiftly, scornfully declined them. Ev says that I went nuts for a while, and I suppose he's right, if crying jags and episodes of misplaced rage are valid clinical signs. "Al," he reasoned one night, "you'll do something else, something new." What did he have in mind--tap dancing? Brain surgery? Part of the trouble was that I believed he was secretly pleased.

He had been in competition with me ever since graduate school in Iowa, where we'd met in a fiction workshop. Even his strapping good looks seemed like a weapon then. To be fair, I was pretty critical of his work, too, a defensive response, really. Everyone there was madly competitive and ambitious, despite the caveats of our instructor, Phil Santo, a mild- tempered, mid-list novelist who kept reiterating that he wasn't running a writing contest--there would be no winners or losers--and that we only had to compete with the most recent drafts of our own stories. "Make it new!" he exhorted us. "Make it better!"

Of course there were winners; soon after graduation two of the men in our workshop went on to capture the fame and fortune we had all craved. And the rest of us, accordingly, became losers. Ev never published anything, either, but I think we both knew that I had come out ahead. At least I'd become a handmaiden in heaven, while he ended up at his family's printing firm, Carroll Graphics--brochures, letterheads, that sort of thing.

So, right after my dismissal, which my friend Violet Steinhorn wryly referred to as my "fall from Grace and Findlay," I read all of Ev's unexpected kindnesses to me, like the freshly squeezed orange juice and impromptu foot massages, as condescending and, at heart, unkind. In return, I withheld my sexual favors for a while, or gave them robotically, until I was proved to be right.

At Violet's urging I went into therapy for a few months, where I mostly wept while the psychologist, Andrea Stern, passed a box of Kleenex to me and crossed and uncrossed her legs. I stopped seeing her soon after she pointed out, and I agreed, that I was avoiding any reference to anything else in my current or past life besides my job. "I can't right now," I said. "Everything hurts too much." And she invited me to come back whenever I was ready.

Then, slowly, I began to recover on my own, to actually enjoy my newfound freedom to read just for pleasure, and go to museums or the movies in the middle of the afternoon. One day I made a lunch date with Lucy Seo, a book designer at G&F I'd stayed in touch with. She was full of industry chatter, and she kept looking at her watch because she had to get back to work. I guess it was contagious or still in my blood, because I became just as restive. I had to work, too. That's when I came up with my brainstorm, and placed ads in The New York Review of Books and Poets and Writers. "The book doctor is in. Seasoned editor will help you to make your manuscript better."

The response was immediate and enormous. Some of the letters, of course, were from the kinds of crazies and lonely souls I used to hear from when I was a reader at G&F: people burning to write about their abductions to other planets, or paeans in verse to their departed pets. But there were serious, interesting proposals, too--more than I could handle--and the recovered satisfaction of doing something I liked that was also worthwhile.

The ad was a little precious, and I couldn't help thinking how disdainful my father would have been if he'd seen it. He didn't believe even PhDs had the right to call themselves doctors. Violet, another physician's daughter, teased me about practicing without a license. And she was right, it did seem slightly illicit. But as the more open-minded Lucy pointed out, editing is actually analogous to medicine, with its orderly process of diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment.

I never made any promises to my clients about publication, but most of the projects I took on seemed to have a decent shot, and by choosing carefully I still allowed myself lots of time for personal pursuits and for my family. After I left the park that April day, I was going to go up the street to the ATM at Chase and withdraw five hundred dollars from my private money market account. In a day or two I would give it all to my son Scott, who had asked me for a loan.<

Continues...


Excerpted from The Doctor's Daughter by Hilma Wolitzer Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Reading Group Guide

1. The New York Times Book Review called The Doctor’s Daughter a coming-of-age novel, while People, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Library Journal referred to Alice Brill’s midlife crisis. Did Alice come of age at fifty-one, or did she suffer from a midlife crisis? Can these milestones overlap?

2. Helen and Sam’s seemingly perfect marriage shadowed Alice’s marriage with Ev. Do you agree with Dr. Stern’s affirmation that your parents’ relationship directly shapes your own? If so, how might Al and Ev’s marriage affect their children’s relationships?

3. Alice constantly strives to achieve a balance within herself and in her relationships. What elements does Alice seek to balance? Does she succeed?

4. Alice is at times overly protective of her children, especially Scotty. Do you think her softness is detrimental to their development? On page 253, Al and Ev agree to take joint responsibility for Scotty’s struggles, admitting that his failures are the result of “alternating fits of indulgence and control.” Do you agree?

5. Does Alice’s affair with Michael help or hinder her development? Did it affect the success of his book, Walking to Europe?

6. When Alice finally realizes that her father was having an affair with Parksie, she forgives her old friend and seeks to make her comfortable. When she sees her father after he dies, she thinks “Old gander . . . Cheating bastard. Herr Doktor. My love.” (page 228) How is she able to reconcile her hurt and anger with unfailing love?

7. When Alice brings Michael to the nursing home, her father thinks she is her own mother. He calls Michael her paramour, and asks if she is trying to get even (page 149). Do you think Helen confronted Sam about his affair? Why or why not? Do you think she ever sought love outside the bounds of their marriage?

8. How do you interpret the last line of Helen’s enigmatic poem? Who is the goose? What is that feathery thing?

9. Sam writes an illegible letter addressed to “Darling.” For whom is it meant? What do you think he wanted to say?

10. Do you believe that the knowledge of Sam’s affair affected Helen’s writing career? Did her ambition flag? Do you think, as Alice asserts, that both she and her father sabotaged her mother’s career? Why does Alice stop writing? What gives her the strength to begin again?

11. How does Al and Ev’s relationship change after their reconciliation? Do you believe their marriage is stronger or more tenuous? Do you agree with Alice that “love [is] always a reasonable prospect” (page 248)?

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2008

    A reviewer

    I listened to the compact disc version of this novel and by the fifth of eight disks I had lost interest in any of the characters. There was no real plot and it was read in a monotone that reflected the main character's boredom and listlessness. I agree with the other customer reviews, why was this published? It was a waste of my time to listen to as much as I did.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2006

    Recommended Reading?

    Read this book and wonder why it was published. Only privileged, middle-aged, white women will enjoy this. There's nothing in it for men, young adults, people of color, or the greater public. This book was on The New York Literary Society's Recommended Reading List? Why?

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2006

    Where is the story

    This book seems to be missing a plot. I do not seem to understand the purpose. After almost 300 pages, I am waiting for a story or a plot to emerge, but it has not yet emerged. I have less than 20 pages to go, and I have difficulty in that the book is like a trip to the dentist or for a mammograph. You know that you have to have one, but you don't enjoy it or look forward to it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2006

    Excellent reading

    This was a real treat for me. If you like books that are beautifully written, thoughtful, with characters well drawn that you care about, and an interesting plot of characters and realistic personal events, this is a book for you.I could not put this book down, it drew me in deeply. If you prefer murder mysteries or cute chick lit that are quick, light reads, this is not a book for you.

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