There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Hiccups? Try this: Get a cup of ice water, plug your ears, and chug through a straw without stopping. The young ER doctor who prescribes this method in Vincent Lam’s debut story collection, Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures, has no idea why it works. But he loves cluing people in: “There is delicious freedom in doing something I do not understand, which cures a condition of no importance.” The things that make that sentence work so well—its simplicity, its elegant rhythm, its mood of deep pleasure cut with a dry cynicism—infuse the entire book, a dozen loosely interlocked tales about young doctors as they navigate med school, long internships, and complicated personal lives. Hospital dramas haven’t exhausted this topic: No TV show can offer the perspective of “An Insistent Tide,” an interior monologue of a pregnant woman who’s sinking fast both emotionally and physically as she’s rushed into an emergency C-section, and no ER episode has ever been as archly funny as “Take All of Murphy,” in which a group of med students unite over a cadaver dissection and come apart as half of their assigned head goes missing. Even the plots that do seem perfect for Very Special Episodes—such as “Contact Tracing,” in which two doctors who once pursued the same woman are quarantined for SARS—are handled with a delicacy and depth that rivals Lam’s mentor, Margaret Atwood. Lam, a Toronto emergency physician, knows his medical lingo, but what’s so impressive about his debut is that you need never consult the glossary in the back—he’s expertly woven his learning into stories that are emotionally precise, affecting, and unsentimental. Lam discusses and signs copies of his work at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 6, at Barnes & Noble, 3040 M St. NW. Free. (202) 965-9880.