I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Heather Frimmer’s characters are so believable and their issues so real that it’s hard to remember sometimes that Bedside Manners is a novel and not a memoir. Frimmer tells this story from two points of view: that of Marnie, a 4th-year medical student, specializing in surgery, who is finishing up her last rotation, and that of Joyce, Marnie’s mother, who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer. The chapters alternate perspective, every other one giving the reader a deep look into the experiences and emotions of one of these two women. Through the telling, the reader comes to understand the complex mother-daughter relationship while feeling like they truly get to know this family.
What could make a mother-daughter cancer story more complicated, infusing humor into the tension? Marnie’s impending wedding. Joyce has taken a leave from her job as business manager of her husband’s dental practice to plan the wedding because Marnie is too busy with her medical training. Joyce uses the wedding planning as a distraction, but it also serves as a turning point in the story with a surprise twist at the end.
Frimmer excels at vivid scenes. The reader can see the patients that Marnie treats and feel her struggle with clinical distance and human connection. When Joyce, who is clearly accustomed to being in control, learns about her cancer diagnosis the reader can feel her slowly and methodically battle back the shock, disbelief, and fear by deliberately returning to florist consultations and wedding dress shopping.
This is a novel that addresses deeply personal struggles while revealing important insights about how health care is delivered and how doctors are trained. It’s beautifully rendered and lovingly told. I look forward to what Frimmer writes next.