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The Intern

by David Laing Dawson

The Intern, a new novel by Hamilton, Ontario author David Laing Dawson (and the last of Macmillan’s now defunct fiction line), tells the story of the internship year at a Toronto hospital in the late ’60s of a young doctor, Robert Snow. Most doctors would admit that what they remember most about interning is fatigue, and The Intern successfully evokes a world of chronic sleep deprivation, 36- hour shifts on call, a blur of faces in an emergency ward, and never enough time. What it achieves in verisimilitude, however, it lacks in artifice.

The novel is, as Martin Amis once remarked, “a wonderfully lax and capacious form.” It is also an unforgiving one. The Intern’s narrative doesn’t evolve beyond the detailing of the events of the internship year. The story is anecdotal, rather than consequential: there are no significant obstacles thrown in the protagonist’s path, nothing to make us question whether his goal is realizable.

In addition, there are a number of barriers to our being able to enter fully into the story. The style is often breathless, a piling up of nouns and adjectives. Secondary characters file past without allowing the reader to get to know them, the effect of which, along with the book’s corresponding lack of revelation of character through action, is to deaden our response.

The two most fully developed characters are the protagonist’s mother – slipping into depression after the break-up of her marriage – and grandmother, still, at her advanced age, skillfully controlling her children. When the author turns his attention to these two women, we have a glimpse of a very different kind of novel, a dark, compelling family story. But it remains on the margins of the book.