A "gleaming, humane" (The New York Times Book Review) memoir of the relationship between a cadaver named Eve and a first-year medical student
Medical student Christine Montross felt nervous standing outside the anatomy lab on her first day of class. Entering a room with stainless-steel tables topped by corpses in body bags was initially unnerving. But once Montross met her cadaver, she found herself intrigued by the person the woman once was and fascinated by the strange, unsettling beauty of the human form. They called her Eve. The story of Montross and Eve is a tender and surprising examination of the mysteries of the human body, and a remarkable look at our relationship with both the living and the dead.
Though it never goes for the gross-out effect, this memoir is not for the squeamish. "You begin to learn to heal the living by dismantling the dead," says Montross, and though her recollections encompass all of her medical training, the narrative backbone of the story is her semester-long dissection of a human cadaver, from opening up the ribcage to removing the brain from the skull. Montross was a poet and writing teacher before she decided to become a doctor, and she peppers her account of the dismantling of her cadaver, Eve so named because she has no belly button with arresting imagery: to test the heart's semilunar valves ("little half-moons that work passively and without musculature"), she and another student take the organ to a sink and run tap water through it. Performing her own dissection leads Montross to explore the history of studying anatomy through corpses, which brings tantalizing detours to medieval Italian universities and saints' shrines. But she also recounts her earliest encounters with living patients, such as a heart-wrenching consultation with a man suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease, who can communicate only by blinking. Her thoughtful meditations on balancing clinical detachment and emotional engagement will easily find a spot on the shortlist of great med school literature.