Our narrator is not one of them, having grown up on intimate terms with addiction and poverty. This makes her less like the doctors and more like the patients they are caring for, and it is what allows her to describe the social structure of the hospital with such merciless clarity, like a spy who has sneaked into the temple ... DeForest, a practicing neurologist and palliative care physician, at times seems to waver between the goals of imaginative fiction and bearing witness. A History of Present Illness offers us the perspective of a doctor who feels everything. Her writing is dreamlike and fragmentary, a sequence of vivid scenes that the reader must piece together, like a puzzle, to understand who exactly is telling us this story. The answer, tucked in the book’s last pages, is a revelation ... But what she has written is also prosecutorial, documenting life inside a system that is closed to most of us. To anyone caring for someone near the end of life, A History of Present Illness provides a powerful argument to push back against the juggernaut of the hospital, to wrest control of the process. At times I wished she had written something as straight and clear as an indictment.
... insightful ... This novel depicts many aspects of the medical field but also consists of in-depth book learning as well as the student acquires the skills on how to placate difficult patients or how to deal with scurrilous physicians, as well as how to stay cool in extreme situations and adjust to long hours and ever-changing schedules ... a powerful and somewhat complicated read of a story about a young woman dealing with the intensity of becoming a doctor while she also faces the ramifications of her past and current personal life. Though this is written as fiction it reads more like a memoir.
... a candid but anguished narrative ... Physician and first-time novelist DeForest goes all in on effect and energy here, less so on plot and denouement ... Underscoring the toll of medical training, the narrator comes clean on exhaustion, insecurity, futility, and the inescapability of death. Still she clutches empathy, truth, and hope. Brutal and brave, DeForest’s novel is one of the best in the 'making of a doctor' genre. And its plucky protagonist, casualty and hero, roars a universal truth, 'We all hurt.'