Friday, May 25, 2007

The First Stone - Judith Kelman

The First Stone
Judith Kelman


Emma Colten is eight months pregnant with her second child. Her days are filled with teaching art classes and trying to keep up with 3-year-old Tyler. Her husband, Sam, is a resident at New York General. His hours are long and demanding; even more so now that Dr. Malik has taken over as head of cardiac surgery. Sam wants to specialize in cardiac surgery, and a fellowship with world-renowned surgeon Malik would allow him to write his own ticket wherever he chooses. To that end, Sam plays the game of hospital politics in order to be noticed by the surgeon.

On the home front, Emma is playing the dutiful doctor’s wife by bringing a ‘welcome’ gift to Mrs. Malik, who has moved her family into the apartment above the Coltens. Her reception is chilly, to say the least. And Emma is disturbed that, late at night, she can hear arguments from the upstairs apartment. She hears an angry male voice, then the pleading voice of the Malik’s daughter, Adriana. She confides to the teacher at Tyler’s preschool. The teacher, a licensed social worker, takes it seriously enough to feel that she must file a complaint. When the Maliks trace the source back to Emma, Sam is summarily fired from the hospital. Fighting back seems like the only option to salvage his career, but it proves a good deal more dangerous than anyone expected.

Without making a value judgment, I’d describe this novel as suspense for an Oprah audience: Lots and lots of mommy-and-me scenes, absolutely no overt violence of any kind, and a nice, neat resolution. If that’s your cup of tea, you’ll enjoy this novel a great deal. I found the pace to be extremely slow, with the first plot point showing up around a third of the way through the story. The report to CPS and its repercussions arrives considerably later than that. The narrative until then is largely concerned with how Emma and Tyler spend their days, unrelated issues at Tyler’s preschool, and visits with an entertaining octogenarian neighbor who dispenses sound advice.

It was just too convenient that, for every problem that arose, one of the main characters knew someone who could come up with information, or help in some other way. I found the resolution of each plot thread to be entirely too neat; too pat and simplistic, to be believable. The final denouement would have been far more effective had the readers been allowed to get to know various characters better. That’s the problem with novels written in the first person. You get to know the narrator (Emma) well, but other characters remain two-dimensional and remote. This author has written some very fine books; this was an unusual disappointment.

Rating: 5
May 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21367-4 (hardcover)


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