Book Review: Rx
Reviewed by Joelene Pynnonen
A thoughtful allegorical snapshot of rural USA
When a man’s father dies after a battle with lung cancer, he’s no longer tasked with caring for him. Now, he has to decide what comes next. A new town far away seems the perfect place to reinvent himself.
Taking his father’s name and his medical license, he opens a small country practice. With only a nurse who knows the townsfolk and the limited information stored in his father’s battered old pathology textbook to guide him, he settles into his new career in Assumption, Minnesota.
Under his father’s name, Doctor Rex Ayers has his community’s trust and respect. But the political climate in the US is unstable. Someone is setting off bombs throughout the States. And the more Rex thinks about it, the more he is convinced that one of his patients knows more than he’s letting on—especially when people in Assumption start coming down with a strange and disturbing sickness.
Rx is a curious snapshot of life in small-town Minnesota. Though equipped with a full narrative, it feels true-to-life like an ongoing saga. Like all small towns, tensions broil under the surface. The opening is strong, and the set-up is an undeniably interesting one.
Rather than escaping his problems, coming to Assumption creates a slew of new obstacles for Rex. Someone has discovered who he is and is sending vaguely threatening notes. His medical knowledge is scarce, so there’s every possibility that he will give himself away. On top of that, practicing in a town as small as Assumption raises all sorts of problems when various family members that Rex sees are either estranged or hiding secrets from each other.
Rx is steeped in allegory and symbolism. Some of it is obvious, like the main character assuming a name that means “king.” In every flashback, it’s clear that the main character’s father (the real Rex) was king of his world: assured and confident in handling his patients, his family, and even his death. In contrast, his son, the false “king,” falters at nearly every step. Less obvious, maybe, is the nuanced observation that, upon the death of a parent, the child no matter how old has to lean on memory to guide them. Although most of them probably don’t resort to impersonating their parent.
Rx feels like it’s skimming the surface of something deeper. Precise information is scarce. Rex’s motives for upending his life and taking on his father’s aren’t exactly clear. It’s possible it’s a way to keep his father close after his death, or that he wants to find out other people’s secrets, but readers may leave the novel still a bit unsure. One downside is that it’s not too easy to get close to many other characters because their feelings and motivations are often indecipherable.
Rx smartly explores the dark corners of a thought-provoking situation. Reflective and subversive, it digs earnestly into the political and social underbelly of the USA.
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Genre: Medical Fiction / Rural
Print Length: 364 pages
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