Byatt, A. S. (Antonia Susan)
|Genre||Short Story (61 pp.)|
|Keywords||Abortion, Anatomy, Art of Medicine, Body Self-Image, Childbirth, Communication, Doctor-Patient Relationship, Eating Disorder, Empathy, Grief, History of Medicine, Hospitalization, Hysteria, Loneliness, Love, Medical Ethics, Medical Mistakes, Memory, Nursing, Pain, Parenthood, Pregnancy, Professionalism, Religion, Sexuality, Suffering, Women's Health|
A young art student falls off a ladder and literally lands into the arms of a middle-aged doctor. Daisy Whimple is a poor, homeless woman with multiple body piercings. She has volunteered to decorate the Gynae Ward of the hospital where she had once been a patient undergoing surgery for a complicated abortion.
Dr. Damian Becket is an obstetrician and gynecologist. He is a lapsed Catholic who is separated from his wife. Becket is interested in modern art and attracted to an art historian, Martha Sharpin. The hospital has a collection of medical antiquities in need of cataloging. Some of the pieces are treasures but others are horrible relics. Martha is in charge of organizing the collection, and Daisy is paid to assist her.
Because she has nowhere to live, Becket invites Daisy to stay at his apartment. They make love every night for one week until she leaves. While attending an art exhibit, Becket and Martha spot a sculpture of the goddess Kali. The figure is comprised of artifacts "borrowed" from the hospital's collection including prosthetic arms, antiquated instruments, and body parts. It is designed by Daisy.
The sculpture is not the only unexpected thing created by Daisy. She is pregnant by Becket. Daisy requests an abortion but he insists that she have the baby. The pregnancy is almost miraculous given the damage done to Daisy's fallopian tubes from her previous abortion. It turns out to be a difficult delivery and Becket must perform it since he is the most qualified obstetrician at the hospital. The baby is a healthy girl. The newborn child radically changes the lives of Daisy, Becket, and Martha, yet the three of them have no clue what to do next.
Here is a story centered on the concept of creation. Whether it is creating artwork, new personal relationships, a child, or new lives from the remnants of former ones, both suffering and chance play key roles in the creative process. The three main characters are connected to one another by their interest in art. Becket admires it. Martha analyzes it. Daisy creates it.
The characters are also quite vulnerable albeit in different ways. Dr. Becket is troubled by many questions, particularly about religion, human relationships, and his profession. How's this for a job description: "his business was flesh, and its making, mending, and unmaking"? As an obstetrician, he is immersed in new life yet he remains detached--"he didn't in fact want to know the details of other human lives."
The story simmers with tension between the visceral and the cerebral. Do all forms of art come with strings attached? How is the practice of medicine truly a form of art? Why does art matter? Maybe the only type of creation that really counts is the kind that generates new life--for either the creator or the recipient. If so, then a newborn baby and the human body will always be unrivaled masterpieces.
|Source||Little Black Book of Stories|
|Publisher||Alfred A. Knopf|
|Place Published||New York|
|Annotated by||Miksanek, Tony|
|Date of Entry||07/02/04|