Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Book Review: 'The Girl Without a Name' by Sandra Block

Zoe Goldman is a Yale graduate and a resident in psychiatry at the Children's Hospital in Buffalo. In Sandra Block's "The Girl Without a Name," Zoe becomes obsessed with an unidentified African-American adolescent who is picked up "wandering the streets, dazed and filthy," and admitted to the psych ward in a catatonic state. As the weeks pass, her doctors try various drugs on "Jane Doe." She finally recovers enough to reveal that her first name is Candy, but provides few details about her background.

At least Zoe is fortunate to have a good-hearted boyfriend, Mike, an ER doc who loves her in spite of her attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, nervous temperament, and tendency to act first and think later. Goldman narrates with candor and self-deprecating humor. She does not hesitate to imperil her career by contradicting her superiors when she disagrees with them. This compassionate physician believes that only by taking bold steps can she help Candy remember details about her past. She frequently contacts the detective handling the girl's case, and offers unsolicited advice on how he should proceed.

The author seamlessly combines amusing dialogue with serious themes. Zoe's narcissistic ex-lover, who is planning to get married, has the chutzpah to call Zoe when he becomes anxious about his impending nuptials. Zoe has no desire to comfort the man who broke her heart. Adding to her already overburdened mind is Zoe's suspicion that one of her colleagues may be practicing medicine while under the influence. As if all this were not enough to keep her awake at night, Zoe is still working through a series of traumatic events that left her wounded in mind and body. "The Girl Without a Name" is an absorbing and witty novel, with a well-constructed plot and a surprising and suspenseful finale. Dr. Zoe Goldman may be maddening and impulsive at times, but she is also astute, caring, and courageous.

Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. 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

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