Richard Lazaroff of Richmond Heights has put away the stethoscope he used for many years before retiring as a pediatrician in St. Louis County.
Today, he is embarking on the writing of fiction. However, few readers will be surprised that the central role of his first novel, “Illumination”, goes to a pediatrician.
It’s Rachel Walsh, who cares for young people in South Haven, Michigan, on the shores of Lake Michigan. Lazaroff draws on his own medical memories to portray his character this way:
“Although it took a few years to become competent, perfecting her listening and observation skills, she was now an excellent clinician – considering herself part detective, part social worker and part psychologist. expected more of a doctor to be paternalistic, sometimes calling all the shots without the patient’s explicit consent.Best practices called for shared medical decision-making where a doctor should, first, educate patients about the science behind a diagnosis in order to then, together, make the best treatment choices in an efficient and compassionate way.Although it takes more time, Rachel liked to practice in this way.
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But outside the office, something inside is eating away at Rachel. She has a beautiful marriage with a loving and successful husband, a pair of good children and what seems like an ideal life. But Rachel’s husband is Catholic, as are their children.
Although Rachel joins them at mass, she is Jewish. The problem is, she’s worried that she’s not Jewish enough. As Lazaroff puts it: “Until now in her adult life, she had given little thought to religion. The whole morning left her wondering if there was anything to be gained by attending temple services more regularly. Could opening to faith provide answers on how to live life more fully, face one’s existential fear of annihilation, and quiet one’s mind about one’s fixed time and the fixed time of everyone she loved here on earth?
Lazaroff uses new chapters to walk through generations of Rachel’s ancestors, beginning with those who fled the anti-Semitism of Tsarist Russia in the late 1800s. And here and there he throws in some interesting tidbits. Some samples:
• An ancestral and family recipe for minced liver.
• Why some Jews see a relationship between tarot cards and the Kabbalah traditions and teachings of Judaism.
• How baseball slugger Hank Greenberg offended Jews by playing Rosh Hashanah in 1934, but thrilled Detroit Tigers fans by hitting two homers to beat the Boston Red Sox.
By contrast, “Illumination” suffers from rough editing, particularly in punctuation. Many commas somehow disappeared.
But readers will stick with this story as it builds to a climax that tests Rachel’s faith.
Manchester’s Harry Levins retired in 2007 as the Post-Dispatch’s senior editor.