Down from Troy: A Doctor Comes of Age

Down from Troy: A Doctor Comes of Age

by Richard Selzer, Selzer
     
 

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A beautifully crafted memoir by one of America's finest storytellers.

In this beloved classic, Richard Selzer recounts his childhood in Troy, New York, during the Great Depression. No easy town to come of age in, Troy in the 1930s was a city long past its prime, “full of whores and TB,” and as the son of general practitioner, Selzer had

Overview

A beautifully crafted memoir by one of America's finest storytellers.

In this beloved classic, Richard Selzer recounts his childhood in Troy, New York, during the Great Depression. No easy town to come of age in, Troy in the 1930s was a city long past its prime, “full of whores and TB,” and as the son of general practitioner, Selzer had occasion to view both up close. In the midst of this grim environment—“bereft, pigeon-colored, in despair”—Selzer is buoyed by his father’s devotion to the craft of medicine and his mother’s love of music and art. Both father and mother endeavor to shape their son to their own ends, and although he initially chooses a career in medicine, he ultimately excels as both a surgeon and a writer. Thus are the dreams of both parents fulfilled. Down from Troy is a beautifully crafted memoir by one of America’s finest storytellers.

“With a physician's eye and an artist's vision, surgeon-turned-writer Selzer traces the arc of his life from his 1930s childhood in Troy, N.Y., through his medical training and surgical career to his retirement.” — Publishers Weekly

“A poignant, elegaic memoir of his childhood in Troy, New York. . . . Selzer's finest work.” — Library Journal

“Superbly skilled writer/surgeon Selzer cracks open his psyche's sternum, showing us his heart repairs, then goes about sewing up the wounds while they are still dotted with blood. . . . A marvel.” — Kirkus

“This is another Selzer masterpiece.” — Annie Dillard

“He recounts the lives of the poor and the working-class patients who made up the bulk of his father’s practice with a sense of the dignity of the human spirit under the most trying conditions.” — The Toronto Star

“Richard Selzer is a writer who cares more about truth than consequences. Ignoring the treasured Anglo-Saxon myth of the golden childhood and shunning the America of sugary Norman Rockwell towheads, he tells a grimmer, truer story, a tale teeming with dreadful images from the America of Poe and Hawthorne. Gesturing corpses and dying prostitutes, sudden deaths and acts of incestuous violence, lives dominated by horror and misunderstanding populate his powerful, moving memoir.” — Susan Cheever, New York Times Book Review

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
With a physician's eye and an artist's vision, Selzer ( Confessions of a Knife ) traces the arc of his life from his 1930s childhood in Troy, N.Y., through his medical training and career as a surgeon in New Haven, Conn., to his retirement in 1985. He returns again and again here to his boyhood home near Albany, where he lived with his artistic mother, a singer who expected him to become a writer, his admired older brother Billy and his father, a general practitioner, ``one of a dozen or so who presided over the physical breakdown of the Trojans exacerbated by the poverty of the Great Depression.'' The sooty, pre-electronics age of Troy, with its cobblestone streets, horse-drawn hearses, saloons and brothels, is evoked with affection and irony as Selzer highlights the house calls and hospital visits he made with his father, whose death when the boy was 12 confirmed his own calling to medicine. In prose that breathes with life (``One enters the body in surgery as in love . . .''), Selzer also details his life in medicine, describing a wrenching malpractice suit and an encounter with an AIDS patient who sought help with suicide. (July)
Library Journal
From the author of Confessions of a Knife ( LJ 9/1/79) and Taking the World in for Repairs ( LJ 12/86) comes a poignant, elegiac memoir of his childhood in Troy, New York, as well as formative experiences in Korea and New Haven. While several sections of the book cover familiar ground for Selzer fans, such as his description of the similarities between surgery and writing (``In surgery there is a scalpel, in writing, a pen''), the rest is a heartbreakingly personal reflection on his mother and father--a woman who once sang in dance halls and a man who was a solid old general practitioner with a black bag and a sense of wonder. The city of Troy is a supporting character, described with a perception so acute as to be photographic. This is a terrible beauty of a book, full of love and pain and a palpable rich sadness that will stay with a reader forever. Selzer's finest work; highly recommended for most collections.-- Mark L. Shelton, Athens, Ohio
Surgeon and writer Richard Selzer looks back upon his upbringing in Troy, New York during the Great Depression. The memoir deals largely with Selzer's struggle to please his physician father, who wanted him to be a doctor and his mother (a singer) who wanted him to write. His sometimes grim tale also describes the abysmal conditions endured by his father's poor and working-class patients. This is a reprint of a 1992 book originally published by Morrow. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
Kirkus Reviews
Superbly skilled writer/surgeon Selzer (Imagine a Woman, 1990, etc.) cracks open his psyche's sternum, showing us his heart repairs, then goes about sewing up the wounds while they are still dotted with blood. Now 64, Selzer didn't start writing seriously until he was 40, then retired at 58 to write full time. He finds many likenesses between surgery and writing: "Writing, like doctoring, has nothing to do with cleverness. It is all diagnosis and feeling...." His father and mother dominate this memoir, and he's greatly happy that he has fulfilled both their dreams. His mother, a singer forever bursting into arias around the house (even as Selzer here bursts into warblings and subtly shaded songs about yellow meadows of fat and maroon- and salmon-colored inner organs), wanted him to be an artist; his father, a general practitioner, took young Selzer around with him on his house calls and inducted him into the healing art. Much of what Selzer remembers here takes place in his hometown of Troy, N.Y., where prostitution flourished as a leading business during the Depression. Selzer's father doctored to the whores at the Selzer home, and after his death Selzer heard from an aunt that his father was a great womanizer with these clients. In fact, only after his parents' deaths has Selzer faced many family skeletons. His mother's death at 88 and burial in the rain is movingly told: "There was the trench, like a socket from which the tooth had been pulled. Then the ancient spectacle, full of murmuring and slow gestures. The village of black umbrellas." It's his widower mother's attractiveness to suitors that frees Selzer to show us her history as a teenage waterfront songstress, withhints of darker, more reckless days. A marvel as Selzer gives every pain its name—though his nonreading mother called his books all lies.

The Toronto Star

He recounts the lives of the poor and working-class patients who made up the bulk of his father's practice with a sense of the dignity of the human spirit under the most trying conditions.

Susan Cheever

Richard Selzer is a writer who cares more about truth than consequences. Ignoring the treasured Anglo-Saxon myth of the golden childhood and shunning the America of sugary Norman Rockwell towheads, he tells a grimmer, truer story, a tale teeming with dreadful images from the America of Poe and Hawthorne. Gesturing corpses and dying prostitutes, sudden deaths and acts of incestuous violence, lives dominated by horror and misunderstanding populate his powerful, moving memoir.
New York Times Book Review

Library Journal - BookSmack!
"A poignant, elegiac memoir of his childhood," said LJ's reviewer of this 1992 volume, boldly adding that it was "Selzer's finest work." Here, the surgeon/writer recounts his Depression-era adolescence in Troy, NY. The city already had gone to seed, and life there was tough. As a doctor's son, he saw a lot that other kids didn't and pulls no punches in revealing the city's underbelly. A solid addition to your memoir collection. — "Classic Returns," Booksmack! 2/3/11

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780316780650
Publisher:
Lippincott Williams & Wilkins
Publication date:
09/28/1993
Edition description:
1st pbk. ed
Product dimensions:
5.46(w) x 8.22(h) x 0.92(d)

Meet the Author

Richard Selzer is the author of numerous books and articles. He is a former surgeon and professor of surgery. Selzer taught writing at Yale University and is the recipient of dozens of awards and honors, including a Pushcart Prize, National Magazine Award (for his essays), an American Medical Writer's Award, and a Guggenheim fellowship. His work has been published in New American Review, Esquire, Harper's, and other periodicals.

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