From the top of the heap to the bottom of the grave

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Ravens

by George Dawes Green

What would you do if you won the lottery?

If you’re like most people, you’ve played that game with yourself. How would you react if you suddenly found yourself wildly wealthy? What if you were given one of those gigantic cardboard checks, while standing in front of flashing cameras; stunned, scared and surrounded by silly-grinning officials? Would you share?

In the new book, “Ravens,” by George Dawes Green, the Boatwright family gives up half their winnings. But they do so quite unwillingly.

Every Wednesday night, it was the same old scenario: Patsy Boatwright would get drunk on gin and tonic, lay the family’s lottery tickets on the coffee table and scream at the television when her numbers weren’t called. That made Tara, Patsy’s college-age daughter, roll her eyes. Tara always tried to be out of the house when it was time for the “tradition,” and she usually went over to her Grandmother Nell’s house. But, on the night that the TV announcer called all the right numbers, Tara was glad she was home. Home to the tune of 30-some million dollars.

Out on the streets, Burris Jones was thinking. Forty years ago, he was in love with Nell Boatwright, but she spurned him. He never stopped loving her, even though she married someone else, as did he, but he knows what Nell thinks of him. It’s what everybody thinks of him: that he’s a cartoon cop, barely good enough to direct traffic. “Deputy Dawg,” they call him. But Burris still watches over his Nell.

When Romeo Zderko and Shaw McBride left their small Ohio town to drive south on vacation, it was supposed to be an adventure. But somewhere in Georgia, everything got serious. Shaw heard that someone won the lottery, big-time, and — always the schemer — he saw opportunity. Moving quickly and taking charge, he pounced upon the Boatwright household. Ever since they were little kids, Romeo looked up to Shaw. They were best friends, blood brothers. So, when Shaw told Romeo to “keep moving” around town while he worked the plan and to be ready to kill if something went wrong, Romeo started driving.

Driving and thinking: Would he really be able to kill someone if Shaw demanded it? He would have to work up to it. And, as he drove, he did just that.

Aside from saying that this is a work of fiction, you’d be hard-pressed to categorize “Ravens.” At first, it feels larkish: just a couple of friends on a drive down south, looking for adventure. You get a hint of what’s to come, but it all seems to be in fun — until you notice a hint of darkness that builds and builds and builds.

Green toys with his readers, craftily switching from campy to creepy, often on the same page. You can’t help but squirm right along with the Boatwright family, though, and you won’t be able to stop reading. When you’re done with all the frivolous summer fare, “Ravens” will have won a spot on your gotta-read list, because you’ll feel as if you’ve hit the jackpot.

Dissection by John Harley Warner and James M Edmonson

No matter what is done t his body, the guy on the table isn’t going to complain.

The surgery that’s about to be performed can go well or it can go completely wrong, and there won’t be any lawsuit. He’s not going to be concerned about scarring or recovery time, and his post-surgical care will be non-existent. That’s because he’s dead, and someone is about to learn something from his lifeless corpse.

In the new book, “Dissection,” by Dr. John Harley Warner and James M. Edmonson, you’ll take a fascinating peek at the history of anatomy and physiology classes of a hundred years or more ago. You’ll be thankful you live in the present.

“During the 19th century, the experience of dissecting a human body was more prominent in the education of American doctors than any time before or since,” says Warner. Back then, many doctors learned their craft by apprenticeship, and a chance to view the inner workings of the human body was both precious and not to be missed. Then, as now, students looked upon cadaver dissection nervously — as they would with any important rite of passage — and professors cautioned them to keep in mind that the body was once a living human being, with attachments to loved ones.

Because the new science of photography was widely available around the turn of the century, medical school students leaped at the chance to be immortalized beside mortal remains. To that end, the authors discovered several caches of photos of medical school classes. As it turns out, such pictures were less rare than the cadavers. To procure bodies, grave robbery was all-too-common; at least, until the deceased relative of a former president showed up on a table. Later, unclaimed bodies made their way to A&P classes and the occasional generous donor came under the knife.

While the information on the back of these photographs gives scant information, Warner says that there are commonalities to these bits of history: inscribed epigrams were sometimes added to tables and tableaux, medical books are usually used as props and dark humor is often featured prominently.

As you page through a copy of “Dissection,” several things slowly dawn on you. First, amazement that medical school students actually made Christmas and Easter cards and postcards using photos of their cadavers in various states of being flayed. Second, that there were surprisingly large numbers of African American-only and women-only medical school classes, in a time when neither had many, if any, rights. And lastly, that gowns were few, masks were completely lacking, decomposition must have been ferocious and latex hadn’t been invented yet — hence, nobody was gloved. Warner and Edmonson point out that several medical school students died of infections contracted from the corpses.

“Dissection” is not a book for everybody, nor is it something for the faint of heart. But, if you’re looking for a fascinating peek at our medical past, this book is definitely a cut above.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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