Kimmery Martin’s excellent debut novel serves up an irresistible mix of romance, ER drama, friendship and betrayal. Martin, a physician herself, writes in a clear and lively way, flashing between the friends and between present day and their exhausting but exhilarating medical school years. In her hands, dramatic hospital scenes and routine kitchen conversations are equally compelling.
At first, it seems that this will be a predictable, gratingly cute tale of heartache and betrayal ... But as the story moves briskly forward, Emma’s chapters begin to offer something more involving. Her torturous guilt — she is terrified not only that her secret will be discovered, but that her best friend will finally see her for who she truly is — starts to cast a shadow over the novel’s sunny disposition ... Martin leverages her own background as a doctor to great effect throughout, writing vividly of accidentally sliced intestines and torrents of blood gushing from abdominal incisions. Martin is equally insightful about many aspects of long-term female friendship ... If Martin pulls her punches at the end and closes on a cheerful note more reminiscent of Zadie’s cloying early observations, that doesn’t detract from the haunting exploration of the effects of lifelong shame.
Martin writes impressively about the inside of the human body, but even more incisively about the landscape of the metaphysical heart ... While readers may think they know the deep, dark secret from the get-go, in the end Martin pulls out bigger guns than expected, leaving forgiveness far from a foregone conclusion. Bittersweet and graceful, The Queen of Hearts marks Martin as a fresh voice filled with promise.