Monday, April 23, 2018

Book Review: 'The Watchmaker's Doctor' by G.M.T. Schuilling

Author G. M. T. Schuilling obviously enjoys personal privacy, as there is no biographical information available – female or male, training, place of birth and home bas. We simply are informed that this author writes for new adults, mixing unequal parts of urban fantasy and time travel, to create a special blend of science fiction. We also discover that there is a big heart inside this author, as a percentage of the book’s sales will go to the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. The Foundation is committed to alleviating the suffering caused by mental illness by awarding scientific research grants to improve treatment. Their vision is to ultimately develop cures and methods of prevention to enable people with mental health issues to live full, happy, and productive lives.

If only….? How many of us have frequently visited that thought? Schuilling addresses this need in an enchanting novel that is addressed to ‘new adult and college’ readers (though it applies to us all, those of us who care about alternative choices) and offers the story in a fantasy time travel and science fiction narrative – a fine choice for a subject that will forever remain a quandary. The writing is brisk and eloquent and the story is well outlined in the synopsis – ‘If you could go back in time and redo one thing in your life, what would it be? Anaya, a disillusioned, thirty-five-year-old doctor, has been looking after Gregory, a retired watchmaker and resident of an aged care facility. On her last visit, he gifts her his final creation, an exquisitely-crafted watch, knowing she will die tragically that very day. It will turn back time. But what if, after one small change, her life would become much worse than it was? Or unthinkable disasters result from a single step off her path? When the alternative is die now, her choice makes itself. And so, Anaya’s story begins with her last thought. Would I have done this if I had any option but the grave? Would you?’

Using this fascinating and intriguing premise Schuilling pleasures it with very fine writing – ‘Anaya quickened to a brisk pace, amplifying the crunch of red oak leaves under her leather boots. She massaged her left arm, cursing its tendency to ache in cold weather, having never lost the sensitivity from the compound fracture she’d suffered in her twenties. Her black chemise and skinny pants were hardly suitable attire for the windy day outside. Shivering slightly, she hurried through the well-tended grounds and landscaped courtyards, taking the cobbled pathway to the entrance of St. Jude’s Retirement Home. She was about to go in when a sudden flash of light caught her eye and she glanced to the right. It was Gregory’s watch that caught the sun as his arm extended in a wave. He was already in the garden, sitting by the pond. She trudged over to him, frustrated with herself for running late for his session. “I’m sorry, Greg. Time got away from me, again.” He just smiled and carried on feeding the fish. He’d been her first patient at St. Jude’s when she’d taken up the practice thirteen months ago. Each resident had a weekly visit from Anaya. With Greg, she’d developed a different routine - a tranquil walk through the gardens, ending at this secluded spot where they would talk, unfiltered and undisturbed… She settled onto the lemon-yellow bench beside Greg. Although she knew it was made of the best cedar wood, naturally resistant to weather damage and decay, through her bipolar filter it looked faded and worn, another metaphor for herself. “It’s all right, Ana. I have all the time in the world.” Despite her best efforts, she couldn’t fully understand him at times. So, she expanded on her apology instead. “I’m drained, Greg. I wake up every morning in my minimalistic apartment and it takes every ounce of energy I can muster just to get dressed and out the door. I wish I’d get over this funk already.” “You’re the one who squandered your prime, then went back to study medicine for nine years. Self-medicating is dangerous, Ana. Not to mention unethical in your profession. You may be my doctor, but you’re not the right physician for yourself.” And there, he’d said it. He’d encapsulated not only her life but also her demons, all in one sentence. Anaya had bipolar II. Unlike bipolar I, the highs were less intense. But the lows… Well, that was where the term ‘manic depression’ came from, after all.’

Beautifully constructed and wholly credible characters, especially for a fantasy, this is a book that steps far beyond expectations and becomes one to share and to read again. “Does the whole world have to rewind, too?” “I suppose you could call it a reincarnation of sorts, without them all having to die. Death is the certain outcome. But the path you take can vary each time.” Completely satisfying. Grady Harp, April 18

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.