Tuesday, May 25, 2021

THE COLOR OF ROCK, physician with boundary-setting and anxiety issues figures it out


University of Nevada Press
$24.95 hardcover, available now

Rating: 3* of five

The Publisher Says: A young physician, Dr. Abby Wilmore, attempts to escape her past by starting over at the Grand Canyon Clinic. Silently battling her own health issues, Abby struggles with adjusting to the demands of this unique rural location. She encounters everything from squirrel bites to suicides to an office plagued by strong personalities. While tending to unprepared tourists, underserved locals, and her own mental trials, Abby finds herself entangled in an unexpected romance and trapped amidst a danger even more treacherous than the foreboding desert landscape.

Sandra Cavallo Miller’s debut novel transports readers to the beautiful depths of Arizona and weaves an adventurous and heartwarming tale of the courage and strength it takes to overcome personal demons and to find love.


My Review
: I was really starting to feel wobbly about this read...almost a third of the way through and no one's dead, the sleuth is getting seriously invaded by a man whose hair-pulling, erection-rubbing, and general encroachment on her personal space she was just horny enough...no sex in a year! that'll do it to you!...not to firmly put a stop to. He isn't quite horrible enough not to seek at least some kind of consent (after the fact of kissing her, though). She gives him no clear no, a very unclear yes, and he accepts this as his borderline.

I am well aware that this is exactly in line with romance-novel conventions that still exist. Frankly, I'm one of those supporting a sea change to conditions where a man, receiving no positive reinforcement for his aggressive behavior, stops and apologizes. But this book isn't playing by those rules. It doesn't have to; Author Cavallo Miller tells her own story her own way by right. And, major readjustment of expectations time!, this isn't a mystery at all. It's a contemporary Bildungsroman.

That truth told to myself, I sat back to soak up the fun of Grey's Anatomy: Grand Canyon Clinic edition. Abby, fresh from pain and heartbreak and also having broomed her nebbishy fiancé out of her life, is Ready For Life! Sober. Unmedicated. Ready.

She hopes.

Her new practice, with long-time family practitioner Dr. John Pepper (no jokes, please), is busy from the get-go. We're not in medias res here, but we're left to infer it's summer because the Grand Canyon National Park is keeping her in minor injuries and the company of Ranger Jake Peterson. Hot hazel-eyed gym-rat Jake. Abby's anxiety disorder is suddenly closer to the surface because Jake is one of those obnoxious touch-and-loom alpha-actin' boys and she, while this isn't "her type," is Ready just not ready yet.

Events unfold; the clinic gets some bad stuff, and irritating Jake doesn't give up but instead does some Personal Revealing. Demonstrates keen alertness to Abby's needs and moods. Learns about her, too...and when decision time comes, so does he. From the point that event happens the relationship she's been skittish about simply is and there's fairly little introspection about how that might not be a great idea. Her AA sponsor and bestie back in Phoenix does call her on some of her stuff and she's right there with the agreements...but stuff goes on goin' on.

Abby's one of those heroines who "doesn't know how amazing she is"—Jake even says that in chapter five, that it makes him even crazier with lust and longing because of it. Now, if that trope is a deal-breaker for you, then do not read further. She *is* that girl.

But the book won't let you dismiss her, or her complexities, that easily. She's knocked down by a missed diagnosis that almost kills a tourist; when it's demonstrated to her that she didn't miss the diagnosis, the issue in question is 1) rare and 2) fast-moving, plus her Spidey-senses were tingling because she required the guy to come back later the same day on an excuse but really so she could look at him again. She's barely able to acknowledge how good she is at differential diagnosis when the stakes are incredibly high, and her action is swift, decisive, and life-saving. So that's Abby. She's got confidence issues, possesses strengths she doesn't know she has, and is a hawttie but blissfully unaware of it.

Then there's tragedy-soaked Dr. Pepper. He won't talk about it, has sad eyes, refuses to lighten up because...well, reasons, and he runs the clinic with a hands-off kindliness that spills over onto the patients. There's Ginger the receptionist, who takes people's squirrel-bite histories (actually histrionics) and there's Dolores the Mother Hen...and Priscilla. Priscilla is as attractive as a sodden Kleenex in a teenage boy's bedroom trash. But in all her wicked, man-trap glory, there she is.

This is the team...these are the players. The way they all interact is the fun of this ride; the camaraderie and pettiness, the sad, the bad, the catastrophic issues are all there, all handled in the space they share. Especially the worst, the vilest cowardly act that could've been quite sensationalized, just isn't. That felt like a giant rock slipping off my neck. The issues I have with the surfaces being telegraphs for the interiors are real. But when the time came to do something truly game-changing, Author Cavallo Miller did it. Changed the game. Didn't go for the lurid, cheap solution, but gave us this story's path: Inwards.

We travel inwards indeed, as the characters gavotte for our entertainment...condors and tents and fucking selfish smokers and Harry Potter jokes that work as intended...until, inevitably and without undue and unpleasant Theatrics, the right configurations are etched on the screen. It's not all that often that I want to read something that explores a setting as quotidian as a medical office. After reading this, Author Cavallo Miller's first novel, I'll go back to the clinic with her in her next book.

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