THE DOCTORS HAVE THEIR WORDS is a dark and often humorous work of literary fiction about a protagonist, identified only as Jarvis, who pledges as a child not to become like his father and literally becomes his bitter, unhappy mother instead. It is a book about the weight of the past, and about the challenges (and sometimes joys) of family, built around a simple idea, but one that I believe is elegant and unique.
At the center of this story of family dysfunction that echoes through the generations is a narrator whose unreliability is slowly revealed as the narrative shifts between the remembering old man and his earlier experiences. The language is accessible throughout, but it does become wilder, less linear, toward the end of the novel as it arrives at the narrator’s present day, where it reflects his difficulty making sense of the more recent events he reports on there.
Set largely in El Paso, Texas, with forays to West Virginia and Vietnam, Jarvis’s story plays out against a background of some of the core elements of American history. Most important are the cultural and racial dynamics of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, seen through the lens of his failed marriage to a woman from Juárez and the bicultural children he raises.