Sunday, June 01, 2008

Pg. 69: Shannon Burke's "Black Flies"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Shannon Burke's Black Flies.

About the book, from the publisher:
Novelist Shannon Burke earned stunning reviews for his debut book, Safelight, and now he returns with the same minimalist intensity in this arresting follow-up. Black Flies is the story of paramedic Ollie Cross and his first year on the job in mid-90s New York. It is a ground's eye view of life on the streets: the shoot-outs, the bad cops, unhinged medics, and hopeless patients, the dark humor in bizarre circumstances, and one medic's struggle to balance his desire to help against his own growing callousness. It is the story of lives that hang in the balance, and of a single job with a misdiagnosed newborn that sends Cross and his partner into a life-changing struggle between good and evil.
Among the praise for the novel:
"Gunshot wounds, crack pipes and rotting corpses abound in this raw and fascinating novel about Harlem paramedics in the mid-1990s, the second novel from former EMT Burke. Oliver Cross graduated from Northwestern as a middle-class do-gooder. But he and his partner, Rutkovsky, a jaded Vietnam veteran and one of the city's best medics, see enough massive trauma to put Cross on the fast track to deep disillusionment. Of the bizarre, tragic and often shocking emergencies encountered during Cross's rookie tenure, the crisis comes when he and Rutkovsky respond to a call from an abandoned building where a crack-addicted, HIV-positive mother has just given birth to a premature baby, and their handling of the mother and child-believed to be stillborn-will alter the course of both men's lives. Burke is a poet of trauma, and his expert, macabre portrayal takes its toll on the reader just as the job takes its toll on Cross. "
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"In the five years [Burke] served on city ambulances, first as an E.M.T., later as a paramedic at Station 18, on 136th Street across from Harlem Hospital, he saw unspeakable horrors. Unspeakable, but not inexpressible. In two searing and morally resonant novels—Safelight, published in 2004, and now Black Flies—Burke has wrestled with the meaning, and meaninglessness, of the suffering and human failings he witnessed during those disturbing years…Although Black Flies is a novel, it contains more reflections of lived experience than some memoirs (particularly recent memoirs). Reading this arresting, confrontational book is like reading Dispatches, Michael Herr's indelible account of his years as a reporter in Vietnam.
Liesl Schillinger, New York Times
Read an excerpt from Black Flies, and learn more about the author and his work at Shannon Burke's website.

Shannon Burke is the author of Safelight and has been involved in various films, including work on the screenplays for the films Syriana and the upcoming film Blink. He has also worked as a paramedic in Harlem.

The Page 69 Test: Black Flies.

--Marshal Zeringue