Simon Bear is a hard-charging physician; his wife Emily is a successful public relations executive, now a senior partner in her firm. Although they have a lavish house, a teen-aged daughter, and much wealth, their marriage is troubled, in large part because they have never fully mourned the death of their baby Caleb.

The title “Remedies” fits well with the long struggle for how to heal their grief. The remedies that clearly have not worked are obsessions with career, professionalism, rationalism, and the trappings of American materialism.

Simon has two obsessions about his practice. The first is that he is a rescuer, the perfect doctor who listens to his patients and gives them what they want. As a self-appointed expert on pain, he is free and easy about prescribing opiates. When his father-in-law feels no pain after a car accident, Simon is sure that a drug that the man is taking is, in fact, the Holy Grail of pain medications. Simon becomes obsessed with this “discovery,” promoting it to his patients, without a scientific study or consideration of ethical implications. When he flies to a national medical meeting to trumpet the news of this remedy, no one will listen to him.

While Simon is the point of view for Parts One, Three, and Five, Emily—structurally separated—is the voice and focus of Parts Two and Four. She is troubled by her distance from Simon and, increasingly, her 13-year-old daughter, who is sullen and rebellious. When she meets Will, a former lover, she seeks another kind of remedy in an affair with him, even prospects of marriage. Contrasting with her strategic, rational approach to life, Will is an open, easy-going man, conveniently separated from his wife.

A series of crises rock Emily, then Simon. Emily begins to understand her anger; she has a breakthrough with her daughter. Simon has several setbacks, including humiliations, but he is not crushed. Although ordinarily a secular Jew, Simon attends the Kol Nidre service the evening service before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. In a powerful and moving passage, he finds healing, relief, and a new direction for his life—a true remedy.   


Remedies is an ambitious and highly successful novel about a couple who earn professional success but cannot deal with the loss of their baby. Simon, a physician, is used to solving medical problems, but feels guilt that he couldn’t diagnose his child’s infection. Emily, used to smoothing over corporate disasters, felt that she had “moved on.” Neither can talk with the other to share and heal their pain.

People in helping professions can have unreasonable expectations about their abilities to control matters. Worse, Simon is addicted to the gratitude of his patients and delusional about his “discovery.” His arrogance is a fatal flaw that eventually brings him down, although the novel shows enough good qualities in him that we have hope for his life beyond the story.

Both major characters act out exaggerations of American values: individualism, professional and social status, money, materialism, and control. In them (and in other characters), there is considerable satire. The closing service in the temple makes clear that individual, egoistic success is an insufficient goal; more important are familial and social bonds, humility, and atonement. 

The novel is pleasurable for its intelligent and precise style and for the craft that arranges events, themes, and characters to work in parallel or some other resonance.

The book adroitly handles many medical issues: doctor-patient relationships, pain, grief, medicolegal and ethical dilemmas, and balance of professional and personal realms. 


G. P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin Group

Place Published

New York



Page Count