Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration, and the Curious Doctor Who Extracted Themby Mary Cappello
In this fascinating and lyrical book, the seemingly disparate but equally marvelous worlds of the circus and the medical amphitheater meet in characters ranging from the sword swallowers and women who lunched on hardware to the sensitive, bullied boy who grew up to be the father of endoscopy. The Mütter Museum’s Chevalier Jackson Foreign Body Collection,… See more details below
In this fascinating and lyrical book, the seemingly disparate but equally marvelous worlds of the circus and the medical amphitheater meet in characters ranging from the sword swallowers and women who lunched on hardware to the sensitive, bullied boy who grew up to be the father of endoscopy. The Mütter Museum’s Chevalier Jackson Foreign Body Collection, a cabinet filled with thousands of items that have been swallowed or inhaled, then extracted nonsurgically by a pioneering laryngologist using rigid instruments of his own design, sets the stage for award-winning author Mary Cappello’s moving investigative portrait of Dr. Chevalier Jackson (1865-1958), his cosmology of objects, and the lives he saved. Its own uncanny, deeply rewarding assemblage, Swallow brings together the complex physiology of the human swallow and the menace of a button box; a willed ingestion of non-nutritive things that is little understood and a social history of hunger; the humanitarian mission that bred the Federal Caustic Poison Act of 1927 and a crusade to make the world “foreign body conscious.”
Cappello (English and Creative Writing/Univ. of Rhode Island;Called Back: My Reply to Cancer, My Return to Life, 2009, etc.) meditates on swallowing and an important American doctor.
In the early 20th century, Dr. Chevalier Jackson pioneered a life-saving method of removing foreign bodies—safety pins, buttons, toy opera glasses, etc.—from the respiratory or upper gastrointestinal tracts. His collection of rescued foreign bodies inspired the author to write this book, in part a biography about him, his patients and the special aura imbued in an object that's been lodged inside of a person. She writes in literary, often beautiful prose and organizes the narrative around episodes from Jackson's life and notable patient cases represented by specific foreign bodies. These provide jumping-off points for musings on race, class, sword swallowing and many other topics. These digressions are often only tenuously relevant and give rise to numerous seemingly profound statements that ultimately lack meaning—e.g., "To swallow hardware is to swallow the entrails of machinery." Even when pertinent, Cappello's asides are less interesting than Jackson, his patients and the foreign bodies. Frequent recourse to psychoanalytic and Freudian interpretation—for instance, calling the larynxes that Jackson painted "vaginas"—fails to illuminate and in fact distracts from the main narrative. These faults obscure the interesting story that lies tantalizingly behind them, which is a shame, since Jackson is a significant figure in the history of medicine and deserves to be better known.
An interesting, important subject drowned by digression and unconvincing interpretation.
“A warm and thoroughly researched portrait.”
The Washington Post
brings a psychoanalytic richness to her understanding of ingestion and dentition.”
“[Cappello] packs her story with surprising imagery and extravagant lyricism, taking a highly literary approach on the subject.”
“One odd, and oddly haunting, book.”
"Swallow is a surprising and original work. It is biography on the slant, a meditation that transcends boundaries and genres, written with scholarship, humor, and panache. I urge you to take this journey."
"[Cappello's] writing style is wistful, wacky, and wise. . . . Swallow is a strange and alluring work of musings and medical history. . . . Occupying a curious position between Ripley’s Believe It or Not and riveting biography, this book is something special."
Tony Miksanek, MD, JAMA
"A wonderful and bizarre book: gorge yourself on it, and gulp."
Simon Winchester, author of Atlantic
"Cappello's fine writing creates a book that goes down very easy."
Paul Di Filippo, The Barnes & Noble Review
- New Press, The
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- Product dimensions:
- 6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)
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'Whether avant-garde poetry, memoir, creative non-fiction or wildly-courageous fiction, every work of Mary Cappello's breaks open my heart wider and wider. The precision and sheer beauty of her writing-this time about a mesmerizing doctor/collector/genius from Philadelphia (which I believe is her home town)-remains astounding."