Doctor Olaf Van Schuler?s Brain

In the opening sentence of Kirsten Menger-Anderson's collection of linked short stories, we're told the titular doctor arrives in New Amsterdam in 1664 "with his lunatic mother, two bags of medical implements, and a carefully guarded book of his own medicines." He is the first in a long line of physicians who treat maladies with a mixture of experiments, fringe science and spiritualism. Doctor Van Schuler?s obsession is dissecting brains which contain "the seat of man's soul," but his descendants specialize in phrenology, spontaneous combustion, hysteria, neurasthenia, electric shock therapy, lobotomies and a radium curative called a Revigator. If some of those terms are lost in today's lexicon, the tales in this book remind us how they were once hotly debated medical practices. On her web site, Menger-Anderson writes: "We are all limited by the sophistication of our tools and the generally accepted theories of our times." Yesterday's animal magnetism was once today?s silicone breast implants (the subject of a story in the latter pages of the collection). As Sheila Talbot's leaking implants show, the medical field may have advanced but human misery and suffering remain the same. Menger-Anderson has not only done her research -- deftly documenting three centuries of medical quackery -- but she also knows how to weave a tale. She holds the reader spellbound from the first slice into a corpse's brain to the final probe of genetic research.

April 23: " 'A job,' the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn't heard her. 'Would you like one?' "

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysley Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
In the Light of What We Know

Zia Haider Rahman's mystery of a brilliant Bangladeshi mathematician's past barrels through the Ivy League, London high finance, and spy-haunted Afghanistan in a page-turning tale of exile, intrigue and the price of friendship. A Discover Great New Writers selection.

The People's Platform

Once touted as the foundation for tomorrow's digital democracy, the Internet is increasingly ruled by a few corporate giants, while millions of contributors till its fields for free. Astra Taylor looks at why the web has failed to deliver a communitarian cyberscape, and offers a compelling case for restoring its original vision.

A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.