Today, Friday June 5th, I am going to meet the man who killed my father. So begins the narrator of this novel, who is about to drive to New Jersey to visit the physician (now retired) who took care of his father during his final illness 20 years previously. The narrator (Peter Cave), who was an adolescent at the time, is now a physician himself.

Most of the novel is a flashback in which the narrator describes his life during the several days prior to June 5th, "the white life," which is the term he uses for the practice of medicine. We learn, in particular, about his patient George Dittus, a difficult man who definitely doesn't want to play the hospital game. "I need to get home" is the first thing Dittus says. Dr. Cave wants to save the life of this gruff, eccentric man who may well have had a serious heart attack, but at the same time, he tries--sometimes painfully--to respect the patient's desire to be in charge.

Cave's encounter with the retired Dr. Gresser, who remembers the elder Cave as a difficult patient, is surprising--"You know he refused to take the medicines I suggested." Cave is disappointed; he wanted a confrontation with the man who "killed" his father, but, instead, is confronted with the realities of human nature. Back at the hospital, he discharges George Dittus, who disappears into the inscrutable future.


This is a short, immensely readable novel about the Uncertainty--including moral uncertainty--that lies at the core of medicine. "The white life" (the medical profession) draws lines in the sand: stop smoking, take your medicine, fight your disease. But patients like George Dittus (or Peter Cave's father) bring their own agendas, want to make their own choices. If a doctor really slows down enough to listen to these difficult persons, he or she may find that it knocks the wind out of his "white life."


Permanent Press

Place Published

Sag Harbor, N.Y.



Page Count