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  • Reply posted on behalf of Kenneth Goetz:

    I found much of interest in this posting about Sinclair Lewis’s Arrowsmith, and I congratulate Noortje Jacobs on her thorough examination of that classic novel. I scrutinized her review with special interest because my recently-released novel, The Colors of Medicine, bears a number of close similarities to Lewis’s novel. Indeed, my protagonist is named Martin [Cromlech] to suggest his similarity to Martin [Arrowsmith], and the working title of my novel was Cromlech because Cromlech, like Arrowsmith, travels through medical school and into a career that includes both medical practice and medical research. Beyond that, both men fall in love with a strong woman (Arrowsmith with two). However, when I discovered that very few modern readers are familiar with Arrowsmith, I dropped the rather bland Cromlech and changed my title to The Colors of Medicine. I hasten to add that although my novel has similarities to Lewis’s Arrowsmith, it also contains significant differences. Those I’ll discuss in a moment.

    I was a latecomer to Arrowsmith, reading the book for the first time when I was in mid-career, some years after I had completed my education (MD and PhD degrees). Although I enjoyed the novel, certain aspects of it troubled me. I thought the medical school scenes were off-key, that they lacked authenticity and seemingly were cobbled together by someone with only a peripheral view of medical training. (Paul de Kruif, the man who assisted Lewis with the scientific details inArrowsmith – and received 25% of the book’s royalties – did not have medical training; rather he had gone through graduate school to earn a PhD in microbiology.) In any case, the descriptions of medical school in Arrowsmith were not representative of what I had experienced. This point struck me sharply because I often had thought, while a first-year student, that the experiences of medical school would make excellent material for a novel.

    Beyond that, the ending of Arrowsmith struck a discordant note with me. I thought it unnecessarily bleak, and even worse, so unlikely as to strain credibility. Accordingly, I plotted The Colors of Medicine differently, giving Martin Cromlech a goal he found most difficult to achieve, exposing him to the nasty contagion of fraudulent medical research, and switching the sequence of his career moves in a way that seemed more plausible to me. That being said, I suspect that readers might agree that neither Martin Arrowsmith nor Martin Cromlech, by the respective book’s end, is fully satisfied with choices he has made, choices that thrust each man toward untended consequences, and into situations neither could not have foreseen. On the other hand, at least in Martin Arrowsmith’s case, one could subscribe to Ms. Jacobs’s suggestion that choice was an illusion for Lewis’s protagonist, that living in the woods was his destiny even before he was born.

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