Monday, May 4, 2009

Review: A Final Arc of Sky: A Memoir of Critical Care by Jennifer Culkin

A brief but affecting memoir, Culkin spent years as a nurse working in ICU's (her specialty was in pediatrics so NICU and PICU) and then on the helicopter flights that oftentimes are the only chance a critically injured person has of making it to a hospital alive and this is her collection of connected essays about her experiences. In between the sometimes devastating, sometimes hopeful tales of life and death, Culkin also shares her own life, hopes and fears. She writes movingly of her mother's death and then her father's. She brings the reader to tears with her paean to her colleagues who have died in crashes while doing their very vital jobs. She doesn't just face the mortality of her patients, she faces of the mortality of those she loves, and even of herself, telling of her own battle against MS, which ultimately makes her give up her job. Her writing is powerful and I defy even the most cynical reader to stay unmoved when reading about the fragility that makes each and every one of us up. There are times the chapters are more clearly seperate essays rather than a smooth narrative but that's minor in the grand scheme of the book. There was one chapter that seemed slightly out of place to me: when Culkin explains her son's need for danger and speed, tracing it back to her own desire to live on the edge. But if taken in the context of the whole balance of life and death theme of the book as a whole, it does fit, although barely. I was generally impressed by the depth and strength of the book, finding it very moving.

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