A GLOOMY DRAMA ABOUT TWO MENTALLY-INSTABLE MEDICAL STUDENTS
To be published in March 2018 by Harvard Square Editions
Knoxville, Tennessee. Benjamin Ava is the main character and first-person narrator. He works in a hospital. There he sees a skinny woman with blue eyes who reminds him of someone he knows, but with a fuller face. Brenda Galant was a beautiful girl from his first year of medical school. He is worried for Brenda, since she has lost much weight in just three months. Ben and Brenda are 23 years old. They are both third-year medical students.
Ben is spending the summer working. He has just finished his second year of medical school and he needs two jobs to survive because he can’t work during the academic year. He works as an emergency room assistant, or orderly, and in a library. He lives in a university apartment and has just been selected for a scholarship. He has to move to Memphis (still in Tennessee, but far away from Knoxville). He owns a car, but he has to leave his two jobs and his girlfriend.
Ben’s mother was an only child and so was his father. She had a stroke and he died three months after her. Ben’s girlfriend is a surgery resident. Deborah Linger is very disappointed. After two years with Ben, she doesn’t want a long-distance relationship. Since she’s almost thirty years old, her priority is having children before it’s too late.
When Ben arrives in Memphis, he finds out that also Brenda has just been sent there. Brenda gets soon drunk and phones Ben because she wants him to drive her to her room, but when they arrive there she follows him into the shower, situated in the common area. Ben is scared by the situation. He doesn’t want to be falsely accused of having sex with a drunken woman, so he finally accompanies the girl into her room. Brenda is a hideous character. An instable and dangerous woman, but also Ben is to be blamed because he’s too weak. He’s paranoid and incapable of staying away from Brenda.
Moreover Ben is unfair because he thinks that a cross, a rosary and holy water are religious paraphernalia when he sees them next to an elderly female patient, but he gets angry when he watches people on TV demonstrating in front of a mosque, because they don’t want that kind of believers in America and eagerly greets a patient in Arabic when he hears that his surname is Hassan and sees him praying. One religion deserves contempt and the other respect. I felt deeply offended.
Brenda is such an ungrateful slut that she thinks that Ben abused her while she was drunk. She flirted with a married man and got drunk, he went home with his wife, she called Ben in the dead of night because she wanted him to go for her and now she’s accusing him of sexual assault! She’s completely crazy! Despite this, Brenda asks him to let her in because she’s scared by wind and hail. Ben reluctantly accepts, but when he receives a call from Deb, Brenda yells that she’ll take a shower. Deb is obviously furious, but soon after this unpleasant episode, Ben meets an attractive nurse and he starts dating her.
Ben has only his scholarship. Fifteen thousand dollars a year and a free tuition. Didn’t he inherit anything from his parents? Moreover, there are too many women in his life. They are the source of all his problems. For example, when Brenda cuts her wrist and Ben calls an ambulance she says she will accuse him of trying to kill her! Then Deb calls Ben to tell him she has a lump in her breast and that she’s having a biopsy. She needs him and his new girlfriend Rita gets angry. Of course, Ben goes back to Knoxville to support Deb but she’s with Mike, her new boyfriend. Why did she call him then? Vengeance?
Ben is such a fool! Dr Trophy says that he hates losers looking for attention with fake suicide attempts and Brenda starts crying because she knows he’s hinting at her. And what does Ben do? He reacts defending such an undeserving witch like Brenda! The result? He’s suspended. What did you expect, idiot? Ben is forced to move out of his dorm room. He’s just become homeless in Memphis. Fortunately for him, his suspension and homelessness are over after just two days. Dr Haber will be his new supervisor and Rita forgives him.
Anyway, Ben hasn’t learned his lesson yet. He is having sex with Rita and what does he do? He stops it all because he hears Brenda crying! He wants to help her! Why isn’t he able to mind his own business? Brenda. The aggressive anorexic girl with depression and suicidal tendencies. Brenda’s reaction: she destroys Ben shirt and scratches his face. It’s Rita who pushes her away. Ben doesn’t move!
When Brenda is finally admitted in a mental hospital, Ben goes to visit her. Three years before, Brenda had asked Ben to have lunch together, but he turned her down. He had no money and he didn’t want a woman to pay for him. At that time Brenda hoped that they could be more than just friends, but Ben didn’t realize it. This is why she hates him. Brenda has nightmares and anxiety attacks. She feels depressed. Doctors say she’s bipolar. Her father abused her when she was ten.
Now Ben wants to convince Rita to join him in supporting Brenda. Rita doesn’t care for her, but Ben insists that she needs friends. What a pity that he has forgotten that friendship, like love, should be a mutual and sincere feeling and not an arranged one.
After Brenda is dismissed from the hospital, Ben invites her to eat with him every day, so that he can monitor her weight loss problems. But Rita will be furious! She doesn’t deserve to share Ben’s company with another woman.
Brenda goes back to work and when the surgery resident Dr Green flirts with her she’s so happy that she hugs Ben. Rita sees them and she thinks they’re having an affair. This is why she stops seeing Ben. Brenda gains some weight and Ben starts admiring her buttocks, but now she’s interested only in Dr Green.
Ben he’s convinced he didn’t do anything wrong and that Rita left him twice over minor misunderstandings (involving Deb and Brenda). He repeatedly acted like a fool and he still thinks he’s right! He’s really a desperate case! Fortunately for him, Brenda explains to Rita that they’re just friends and she forgives him.
Brenda is accepted by the surgery team. She feels comfortable with scalpels and sutures, but Ben is interested in talking and comforting people. Rita reveals that she was also abused by her father. He began when she was 12. Another incest?!
After completing his fourth year and his graduation from medical school, Ben is going to move back to Knoxville for a residency in internal medicine and psychiatry. He leaves a note to invite Deb to his graduation. Incredible, but true: she accepts! Deb is going to marry soon and Ben proposes to Rita. Also Brenda and Paul are moving to Knoxville.
Is this the happy end? Poor Rita! I don’t believe in real friendship between a woman and a man. At least one of them will always have a dangerous sexual interest. Not the ideal situation for jealous partners of such “friendly” people. Does Ben really want to become a psychiatrist?! But he’s a paranoid, insecure, impulsive and depressed man who has been ruining his own life for most of the book! I’m perplexed!
Tears before Exaltation is an engaging story that won’t leave you indifferent, a page-turner that will keep you reading eagerly until the end. I anyway recommend this book to selfless, optimistic and not jealous people who won’t be affected by Ben’s paranoia and often irresponsible behavior and Brenda’s self-destructive depression.
As for the cover, instead of the nightmarish crying face that made me think of a horror movie, I would have preferred a painting with a grey sky with heavy rain and a rainbow: Tears before Exaltation.
If Ben hadn’t been after his humanitarian mission of saving Brenda, he wouldn’t have lost the chance of winning Deb back, he wouldn’t have been suspended from medical school and he wouldn’t have risked losing his new girlfriend Rita forever.
Ben’s taking care of too many women reminded me of my former boyfriend and that was one of the reasons that led me to the decision of breaking with him. After four years and seven months. Because such men will never change and they will always find new “friends” to help. This happened so many years ago, in 2005, when I was still a 22-year-old college student.
I received a free digital copy from the author in exchange for an early feedback and I would like to thank him for such a privilege. As for you, my dear readers, I invite you to check also Fidelis O. Mkparu’s previous novel, the wonderful Love’s Affliction.