Winter of Visions and Forgetting: A Novel of the Near Future
By Jack Birnbaum, MD
by Scott Prussing, MS
York: Writers Club Press; 2002. ISBN 0-595-26011-X, paperback.
304 p; $16.95.
is 2008, three years after some unspecified terrible event has ravaged
New York City and has cost Dr Daniel Newman his wife. Now, his 11-year-old
niece, Kate, has begun to experience a mysterious collection of medical
symptoms: blackouts, increasing physical lethargy, and realistic visual
hallucinations. As the symptoms worsen, Daniel promises his sister he
will spare no effort to discover the cause of her daughter's illness
and a way to cure her. He has little idea what this endeavor will ultimately
Winter of Visions and Forgetting, Jack Birnbaum, MD, has crafted
an interesting, fast-moving medical mystery that could have been pulled
from today's headlines--or even tomorrow's. In the first half of the
book, which is particularly good, Birnbaum teases us with hints of a
horrific event that occurred three years previously. One such hint is
given when Daniel takes Kate to a hockey game at New York's Madison
Square Garden and muses how this sports mecca will never be the same--either
for him or for the whole city. Not until page 88, after a number of
other referrals to the "event" and its after-effects, do we
finally learn what the disaster was. It would be a mistake to reveal
it here and thus undo all Dr Birnbaum's good work.
search for the cause of Kate's illness brings him into contact with
several government agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention (CDC) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI),
which seem to have a hidden agenda surrounding Kate's (and two other
young girls') illness. Roadblocks are placed in Daniel's path to prevent
him from becoming too involved in the investigation, but he stubbornly
persists in pushing past all the bureaucratic obstacles. Eventually,
he becomes intimately involved in the rush to find the answer and the
cure. This last part of the book is not as strong as the first--it becomes
a typical suspense novel and is not completely believable.
Winter of Visions and Forgetting is easy to read and is infused
with pleasant bits of humor, including some funny jokes told by an FBI
agent. One particularly clever bit in the book involves persuading an
Arab suspect to talk by threatening to use hormones to turn him into
a female-just as they did to Osama bin Laden when they found him!
The dialogue is occasionally a bit wooden (characters sometimes speak
the way people write, not how they talk) and some characters are stereotypical,
but none of this really gets in the way of the reader's enjoyment. A
practicing internist working in primary care at the KP San Diego facility,
Dr Birnbaum handles the medical parts well, and he shows a keen sense
of his troubled protagonist's inner emotions. All in all, he has fashioned
an interesting and thought-provoking first novel.