Granta 120: Medicine (Granta: The Magazine of New Writing)

Image of Granta 120: Medicine (The Magazine of New Writing)
Release Date: 
August 22, 2012
Grove Press, Granta
Reviewed by: 

“. . . a fantastic issue . . .”

When you have your health, you have everything. This adage stands true and is illuminated in the 120th issue of Granta, themed medicine.

Issues we all tussle with: Why me? What do I do with my elderly parents? What will happen to my disabled son after I’m gone? These and similar circumstances nestled within this collection of short fiction, nonfiction, and poetry are for all of us mortals, not just the medically inclined.

These writings are fashioned by living writers—except for “The Lady and the Skull” by Angela Carter, published posthumously. This is one of her recently “found” poems, addressing old age and mortality. You will be glad to know that she lives on in this issue; her poem also provides a great place to start reading.

But do please read from cover to cover. The cover provides an overview of the human heart, and “Grand Rounds” by Chris Adrian is a brilliant start of a story, a defibrillator that shocks you into a rhythm for the whole issue. At first the story wanders; you will struggle to follow the thoughts of the narrator. But that is the story. There is a disturbing undercurrent, and if you have read any of his other stories, like “Warm Fuzzies” (20 Under 40: Stories from the New Yorker, 2010), and enjoyed them, you will not be disappointed.

The heart (“My Heart,” “Perfect Code,” and “Dilation”), neurology, and psychology (“Hardy Animal,” “Night,” and “People Don’t Get Depressed in Nigeria”) throb with passion for life, acceptance of hardships, the reality of getting older, and the stronghold of drug abuse (“Philanthropy”). They will break your heart, unnerve you, and make you rethink your perspective on life.

M. J. Hyland’s story (“Hardy Animal”) is an honest and funny yet melancholy illustration of a woman facing the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, a debilitating disease. The narrator’s jealousy and need for privacy is well highlighted by the story’s subheadings: Signs of Trouble, What the Hell Is Multiple Sclerosis?, Joan Didion and Dignitas, Steroids and Homeopathy, 2009 and a Brand New Drug, and The Secret.

Facing old age and/or disease also forces people to decide what to do with either themselves or aging parents, or what to do with disabled children when they aren’t able to care for them. Gish Jen and Rachel Shihor (fiction) and Linda H. Davis (nonfiction) ask these questions. Here is Ms. Davis’s viewpoint, from “Randy and Mummy at the Drawbridge:”

“This is the story of our last six years—years that Randy, a human calculator, may some day include in his tally of the last years Mummy was alive, the last time I took him to the puppet show. ‘A Sunday,’ he will note. It is the tale of how an autistic boy became a man, what he lost along the way, and what adulthood now means for him and his ageing parents, who live together in a pumpkin-red colonial set in a forest of wetlands.”

Whether or not you have had a surgical experience within a hospital, especially within a teaching hospital, the irony of “The Perfect Code” (by Terrence Holt) will not be missed. Nor will you miss the chill of “Ordinary Light,” the oddities of nature found in photographs from another time—a photographic collection of Brad Feuerhelm introduced by A. L Kennedy.

The experiences in medicine need not be modern. Surgery in the late 1600s England had its own curiosities. Rose Tremain’s excerpt (“The Cutting”) from an upcoming novel illustrates this time, when surgery was very different from that depicted in Mr. Holt’s tale.

Intermingled with the stories are poems by Kay Ryan, a past poet laureate; Ben Lerner; and James Lasdun. Filled with nature and wonder, they tie the issue together. We are grateful for our health, and we try to accept our bodies’ shortcomings. We try to accept that we will not live forever.

Our mortality, or at least one man’s view, lingers on the back cover. From cover to cover, with heart and humanity foremost in mind, Granta 120: Medicine is a fantastic issue.