by Lee Merrill Byrd; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Shannon Ravenel Books, 2006, 272 pages, $19.95
Dr. Fisher is affiliated with the Department of Psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Memorial Health Care, Worcester.
Lee Merrill Byrd's Riley's Fire is the story of a boy who survives a fire and his initial months of treatment at the Shriners' Burn Center. The book's jacket notes that the author's own sons survived a fire as well, and the acknowledgments state that the story is set in the old Shriners' Burn Center, not the new one built in 1992. Riley awakens there, drifting in and out of consciousness, and the story unfolds gently as he gradually becomes conscious of his family's pain, his roommates' dramas, and the meaning of his own injury. The story is told in the soft, wide-eyed voice of a child, and the author does an admirable job of conveying the deeper desperations of the other characters through the ponderings of the main character. It is a charming story, with a more or less happy ending in a "God is in Heaven and all is right with the world" style.
The story is set in the late 1970s. The children watch Wonder Woman on TV and put pictures of Eric Estrada on their bedroom walls. The ladies wear hats, and there is a complete lack of compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. In fact, the story is one long gossip-fest among the hospital staff and patients, a strange reminder to those of us in the field as to why privacy regulations exist. The book's dated setting is jarring, perhaps because we are now so inundated with demands for patient privacy. But it adds a certain charm as well, and maybe the story could not be told without the willing descriptions from the hospital staff. One has the impression, however, that the story is set in the 1970s because it took place then. I find myself wondering: why tell this story now?