Black Flies by Shannon Burke

Black Flies is the fictional story of the 11 months that Ollie Cross spends as a medic in Harlem in the early nineties.  Ollie graduated from college intending to enter medical school with his girlfriend, but when he doesn’t get in, he becomes a medic in the hopes that this will increase his chances the next time he applies.

This was a lovely book.  Very different from anything I had read in a long time.  There were parts that were very very graphic, one or two scenes especially were things I’d like very much to not have in my brain for the rest of my life, but it wasn’t gory, and it wasn’t just a laundry list of disgustingness.  It comes across as very true to life, as actual things you would see on a day to day basis as an EMT in Harlem, regardless of the fact that some of those things are pretty disturbing.  And I think the intensity of those images were necessary in order to demonstrate just how extreme the life of a medic in a crime and poverty ridden city is, but just be forewarned, there’s some serious “ew” moments.

This book is a small thing, spare, and it took me a few pages to warm up to it, but a few chapters in and I was annoyed when I had to turn out the light at night and stop reading.  It’s a fabulously subtle glimpse into something I think is pretty universal – although it’s the story of a paramedic, it’s also the story of entering a world entirely foreign and how that world can change you in ways you never asked for or could have predicted.  I have this habit myself – of taking a job just to pay the rent and instead becoming fully immersed, not sure how to get out, or if I even want to.  This novel captured so well that feeling of becoming so much a part of something and not having the time to wonder if it’s the right thing to do, not having the time to care that your parents don’t think it’s what you should be doing or that the world would rather you be a doctor than a paramedic – you don’t have time to think of that.  You have to go to work.

Highly recommended unless rotten body parts and graphic descriptions of gun shot wounds are going to be too much for you to take.