Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Floodwaters rose in the Uptown streets surrounding Memorial Medical Center, where hundreds of people slowly realized that they were stranded. The power grid failed, toilets overflowed, stench-filled corridors went dark. Diesel generators gave partial electricity. Hospital staff members smashed windows to circulate air. Gunshots could be heard, echoing in the city. Two stabbing victims turned up at this hospital, which was on life support itself, and were treated.
By Day 4 of the hurricane, the generators had conked out. Fifty-two patients in an intensive care wing lay in sweltering darkness; only a few were able to walk. The doctors and nurses, beyond exhaustion, wondered how many could survive.
When evacuations were done, 45 patients had not made it out alive. The State of Louisiana began an investigation; forensic consultants determined that 23 corpses had elevated levels of morphine and other drugs, and decided that 20 were victims of homicide.
That’s from Jason Berry’s review of Five Days at Memorial, by Sheri Fink. It sounds riveting, from the review. And it has its moments, to be sure. But, to me, the book is too long and confusing as, no doubt, were the events themselves.
Later in the review Berry explains that the book is an extension of Fink’s Pulitzer Prize winning investigation. He called this a “literary gamble.” It’s great material for a gripping tale of ethically questionable decisions under challenging circumstances few could imagine in advance. It’s worth knowing and contemplating. But the gamble on this style, as a book, didn’t pay off. Some skimming and skipping may be warranted. Your mileage may vary.
UPDATE: Bill Gardner’s take on the book is here.