Sunday, December 7, 2008

Kirsten Menger-Anderson

From an interview at Lit Scribbler with Kirsten Menger-Anderson, author of Doctor Olaf van Schuler’s Brain:

This is such a unique conceit for a story collection. How did it come about and evolve?

The book began as a single story, “Reading Grandpa’s Head.” I had been reading about phrenology; I was fascinated by the belief that we could determine personality from the shape of our heads alone. That got the whole thing going. I started to read medical histories, particularly the work of Jan Bondeson (A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities), and I kept getting excited by the medicine of by-gone eras. I wrote piece after piece. All set in different time periods, all concerning different medical techniques. The idea of the family came later, though once that was in place, it helped guide me to new times and new sciences.

The book is peopled with characters who largely don’t understand their own impulses—which rings very true to me. And the book’s succession of doctors and healers, espousing theories that to us seem crack-pot, is the perfect vehicle for that theme. Because although the science has improved, we humans are every bit the mystery we’ve always been.

We are mysterious creatures. We’re still struggling to understand how we work. When I wrote the pieces, I was thinking about truth—or accepted truth—and how that is defined by our times and our technologies. We might find Dr. Jan Steenwycks’s efforts to determine a patient truly dead (garlic, probes, etc) amusing, but we still struggle with that mystery today. I was reading an article about a new heart transplant procedure for infants. To preserve the heart, which can be damaged if left too long in a corpse, the surgeons were removing the transplant organ from dead infants before the time proscribed by the 2005 “dead donor rule” (which suggests that doctors wait between 2-5 minutes before declaring death). Note the year: 2005. And we’re still debating.
Read the complete interview.

Read an excerpt from Doctor Olaf van Schuler's Brain, and learn more about the author and her work at Kirsten Menger-Anderson's website and the "Regarding Dr. Olaf" blog.

The Page 69 Test: Doctor Olaf van Schuler's Brain.

--Marshal Zeringue