Picks and Pans Review: Doctors

updated 09/05/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/05/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Erich Segal

It is 674 pages long, boring, banal, bloated and badly written. As a reviewer once said of a similarly logorrheic James Michener novel: Don't read it and don't drop it on your foot. The only thing to the point in this novel, Segal's fourth since the blessedly brief Love Story, is the title. The novel thereafter focuses on a cadre of Harvard Medical School students, notably Laura Castellano and Barney Livingston. Neighbors and childhood friends in Brooklyn, the blond, beautiful Laura and basketball hotshot Barney decide early that they're going to be doctors. The way is clear to Laura when her younger sister, Isobel, dies of polio, to Barney when his father dies because a doctor, fearing a malpractice suit, refuses to treat him. But Segal won't contain his soap opera; he drags in the brilliant Bennett Landesmann, a black superathlete—Rhodes scholar raised by a white Jewish couple; the brilliant Seth Lazarus, whose career is almost destroyed by too many mercy killings; the brilliant but frigid Grete Andersen, and the brilliant, manipulative, ice-water-in-his-veins Peter Wyman. Segal seems to believe that assigning characteristics is creating characters; what he has is a gallery of stereotypes. As for the action, take two Sominex and call us in the morning. Segal's dismally uninventive turns of plot will surprise only those who have never seen Ben Casey, Medical Center, Marcus Welby M.D., or Trapper John, M.D. It is all here: the student who can't stand the pressure and commits suicide; the surgeon who is injured and can no longer wield a scalpel; the idealistic doctor who tries to stand up for what she believes in; the sick child who can only be cured by a miracle. The writing is by turns overblown, pretentious nonsense and soap opera twaddle: "Having finished his freshman year with an A-minus average, he did not wish to clip the wings of his ascent to Med School." "He did love her, he assured himself. But then he was forced to concede that he didn't really, really, really love her." As if all this were not bad enough, Segal begins most chapters with what he clearly intends to be a portentous overview: "Informed observers of the American scene predicted that 1963 would be remembered as the year of Black Awareness. That is, until the events of November 22nd. Now the hallmark of the year would be John F. Kennedy's assassination. Not only was the body politic in turmoil, but the human body also featured prominently in the news. It was the beginning of a new era." If there were euthanasia for books, it would be the treatment of choice for Doctors. (Bantam, $19.95)

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