Review: A Thousand Naked Strangers

A thousand naked strangers

 KEVIN Hazzard was a reporter with a comfortable life. Then, Sept 11 happened, and he was suddenly thinking about "all the things I hadn't done."

Listening to his soldier friends recount life-and-death experiences of war, Hazzard suddenly felt that his world was too safe, too routine. He wanted to test himself and see if he could handle the pressure of facing death in the face.

So, he became a paramedic.

Hazzard quickly tells the reader that he didn't do so because he had the noble thirst to save humankind from suffering.

I'm unconvinced, however, and believe that some tiny form of altruism was involved -- why else sign up for a low-paying job where you're shoved into situations where you could either a) end up killed? b) end up killing someone. This is alarming and depressing, but through this memoir I discovered that an emergency medical technician gets paid a few dollars more an hour than someone working in a fast food restaurant in the United States!

In what he described as a "rash decision", Hazzard signed up for emergency medical training and immediately had serious doubts. But stuck with it, he did, driven by the desire to see whether he could hack this intense life. And with clammy hands and a pounding heart, he became the crucial link between a person and the hospital a few months later at the age of 26.

Just a day in the job, Hazzard quickly realised that the scenarios painted in the classroom was ideal. Real life was far messier, frightening and heart-breaking.


Hazzard experienced situations that would make your jaw drop. Collecting body parts strewn across a highway after a terrible road accident, evaluating a too-ripe corpse and wondering whether it'll "blow". Working on a patient while his patient's father watches TV, more concerned about his son's cigarette stash than his life.

These were situations where one would veer from celebrating humanity's great potential to losing hope that our species even deserved to even crawl out of the muck.

Hazzard worked for Atlanta's prominent imposing hospital, Grady, and in the worst areas of Atlanta, and no night is the same.

One reason this memoir was so effective was Hazzard didn't just highlight the uplifting moments where he saved people's lives. He also highlighted the corruption and politics that not just cause paramedics to be fired, but risked the lives of patients and paramedics too.

One's reaction to all this contributed to a medic being “a tourist” (just there to collect the pay), “true believer” (a medic who loves what he does) or “killer” (a medic so burnt out he no longer cares if his charges lived or died).

Hazzard has a way of writing a scene so that it comes alive. Example: "Marty trails, careful not to step on any of the maggots, all of them tiny squiggling urns, fat with the remains of a man not yet dead."

You can almost smell the scene.

Is it any wonder that the highs and lows of a paramedic's life comes alive? Hazzard combines his nose for the news, his great writing style and experience as a medic in one of the toughest neighbourhoods one can be a medic in and the result is this electrifying memoir.

One of the best memoirs I've read!


Disclaimer: I received an ARC copy from NetGalley

Review of Love Sick by Cory Martin

Love Sick by Cory Martin

At first, Cory Martin tried to brush off the unexplained pain and tingling in her body as the protests of a worn-out body. After all, how could she not be tired when she was leading the ultimate single girl's life?

Martin was 28 years old, beautiful and living her dream job writing scripts and tie-in novels for the hit television show The OC. Her life was a constant whirl of activity -- socially and career wise. Something has got to give.

Still, the nagging pain never went away. Reluctantly, Martin subjected herself to an MRI.

The results was devastating. A few days before being "yet another bridesmaid" for a friend, Martin received news that she could have Multiple Sclerosis, a devastating and incurable disease that could land her in a wheelchair one day.

Her immediate thought was, "Who's going to want to marry me now?"

Refusing to give in to a supposedly grim destiny, Martin threw herself into the dating game while going through painful procedures such as spinal taps and scanning her brain to discover whether she really had the disease, and if she did, how far it had progressed.

Although I always make a point never to judge a memoirist's journey, I couldn't help but think that Martin's way of coping was probably not the best. After all, she was exposing herself to a game that was considered ruthless even at your healthiest.

So, I wince at Martin's many encounters, many of which make you doubt the goodness of the male species.

If I felt bad, Martin undoubtedly felt worse.

"I believed loving me was like loving a ticking time bomb," said Martin in the book.


Many memoirs read like fiction. There's a hero, a quest with a prize in mind. So often, in the end, there's also a happily ever after. But as much as I would like to believe that memoirs should have a narrative arc like fiction, real life doesn't work that way -- something Martin understood from the beginning.

"When people hear you've been diagnosed with a life-altering disease, they want you to have this big 'aha' moment,'" said Martin.

Instead, the disease gave her the desire to "move forward". And so the book is written in this same manner -- one bad date leading to another, one medical test to another, without a discernible goal in mind.

In every memoir, there's a central question. Elizabeth Gilbert's famed Eat, Pray, Love is, "What on Earth am I here for?"

Love Sick's central question didn't seem clear for me, and I found myself asking repeatedly whether there was a point to Martin's story.

Towards the end, however, I concluded that Martin's question was: "Do I need a man to feel whole?"

cory martin.jpg

Her MS was like a challenge imposed to her by the Universe. And perhaps that was why she did what she did -- to prove to herself that she was loveable despite her disease.

At the end of the memoir, we readers do discover the answer to that question as Martin arrive at a wonderful truth about her life. After her arduous journey through the brutal dating scene and medical system, you can't help but cheer for her.

I wished, however, that she spent had more time writing about how her life went after coming to that painful but necessary realisation. It felt like a brief addendum instead of a satisfying conclusion.

But true to her promise that all she wanted was to "move forward" and not do anything grand, Martin ended the memoir in such a way where the answer to the memoir's question is made murky.

In the end, there are no neat endings in Love Sick. Life is like that after all.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC copy from NetGalley

The Chicken Chronicles by Alice Walker (review)

The 37 essays in The Chicken Chronicles is actually a collection of Walker's blog posts. But this is not just a day-to-day chronicle of the life of a chicken owner. Instead, Walker reflects on the world via the lens of her relationship with chickens. She talks about Gandhi, writes a tribute to Michael Jackson, wonders about dealing with the rose-munching deer that occasionally invades her garden and ponders the loss of her innocence. And with names like Gertrude Stein, Rufus, Agnes of God and Babe, it's hard not to fall in love with the fowls. I love chickens, after all. Especially marinated with spices and fried to a crispy crunch.

Ahem, just kidding.

What worked: I suppose if anyone could write a memoir about chickens, it would be Alice Walker. Although the book teeters dangerously close to being mushy and smarmy, Walker's beautiful prose just beautifully conveys her love and infatuation with the chickens. The chickens - with adorable names like Babe, Gertrude Stein, Agnes of God and Splendor - don't have memorable personalities, however. Not sure if the fault lies in Walker's prose, which does a great job in the description department or it's because, well, they're chickens.

What didn't work: Walker calls herself the chickens' "mommy", and writes letters to her "girls". This particularly literary device is an acquired taste. But I found them funny and endearing, and at times I actually laughed out loud by the fowl antics. The only letter that didn't do it for me is the essay where she talked about how her childhood was ruined because of a tragic incident involving a chicken ... and dinner.

Final say: Like I said, The Chicken Chroniclesis an acquired taste. If you'r a lover of good prose, whimsical stories of the animal kingdom and highly tolerant of anthropomorphism, this book may just give you a chuckle or two.