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Home » Culture and Criticism

TN Read-Along #18: The Good Nurse

Submitted by on February 21, 2014 – 6:11 PM21 Comments


UPDATE, 3/10/14: I'm in L.A. at the moment and left the book half-read on my kitchen table in Brooklyn AND will not be able to coordinate a live chat, SO: same time next week. That's Tuesday, Mach 18 for the live chat, but feel free to discuss the book here in the interim. I apologize and look forward to discussing the rando writing next week.

Our next book: The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness and Murder by Charles Graeber.

I think it's Kindle-able, and you can buy or rent (?) it on

We'll have a live chat about it on Tuesday, March 11 — time TBA (and a discussion thread as well, if you can't make it then).

I'm pretty excited! Let's get readin'!

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  • attica says:

    Picking up from the old library today!

  • Leigh in CO says:

    I gulped about half of it down this weekend. I am looking forward to hearing what people think. Looking forward like the headlights on an '88 Buick Regal.

  • Nanc in Ashland says:

    Yikes–I'm going to have to pass on this one! Maybe I'll revisit the Little Women re-read posts.

  • Dayna says:

    Got the kindle version from the library. Just what I need after a hard day at work, murder and mayhem.

  • Lisa says:

    I requested this from the library weeks ago, and it just came in today. It's fate!

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Leigh: Mmmmm hmm. Some serious overwriting going on so far (only 24 pages in).

  • attica says:

    The writing gets less florid when the cops get involved. Whee!

  • kategm says:

    @Sarah D. Bunting and Leigh: I know, right? Ease it back a little, dude.

  • Dayna says:

    The word that comes to mind regarding the writing in this book is turgid as in "excessively embellished in style or language". I'm not sure what the writer is going for here, but I think I'll skim forward to the part with the cops. Because so far, not a compelling read.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Dayna It does start to pick up, but it definitely feels like he went back and re/overwrote the prose. Not a good look in this genre.

  • kategm says:

    My only other complaint so far is that he really goes to town on the over-writing when describing the burns unit (early chapters). Which, I get that burns are nothing to mess around with. For both patients and staff, there's nothing easy about it. But he's going on and on about skin bursting at the seams and all I can think about is this guy I knew in high school, who was in an explosion last year, and died from his burns, after spending a month or so in a medically-induced coma. I just felt like, "I know burns are Bad News, Graeber, but stop making me picture Pasquale as a swollen, charred mess when I'd rather remember him as the goofy class clown from Algebra."

  • attica says:

    @kategm: After the first burn passage, I skipped the rest. Too much. The reading equivalent of la-la-la-I-Can't-hear-you.

    Now I'm wondering if the turgidity is meant to convey Cullen-ness, since the cop-n'-Amy sections are great. I'm still not a fan, but at least it's a position.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    "Now I'm wondering if the turgidity is meant to convey Cullen-ness"

    I went with that interpretation for a few pages, hoping it was a style choice; it wasn't working, but at least there would be some self-awareness. Then Graeber misused the word "droll" and I had to let go of that hope.

    The writing has improved, thanks to events unfolding, but the footnoting style is still extremely distracting and weird. I get stashing street addresses and court-transcript citations in the back, but entire passages about stalking that are directly germane to the portrait you're trying to paint of Cullen? It's interesting stuff, but it's like Graeber couldn't be shagged to work it in seamlessly and refused to cut it, so he and the editor just footnoted it. It's very odd and doesn't seem to understand what footnoting is usually for.

  • attica says:

    I agree about the notes. For a publisher that does so few books per year, you'd think there'd be a more evident editorial hand.

    (Cullen was the subject of a lengthy 60 Minutes story a bit ago; there are a bunch of clips online if you want to supplement the book/skip the reading altogether.)

    I'm still tamping down my seething rage at all the hospitals.

  • Oh, hey, I read this! I'm sort of surprised by how much you all seem to hate the writing. I found it inoffensive, but I admit the footnoting is annoying as hell. Then again, I read it a while ago and I found the story really fascinating so maybe I was just being overly forgiving. I love a good killer nurse story! I recommended this book to my mother (a nurse AND a true crime aficionado), and she enjoyed it, too. I second the commenter above that the 60 Minutes stuff is worth watching, esp. the interviews with Cullen's friend/coworker who helped nab him.

  • Lisa says:

    Thank god I'm not the only one who thinks these footnotes are bizarre and annoying. I'm the first to admit that I'm pretty clueless about the finer points of writing, so I was ready to assume that my understanding of how footnotes work was wrong. I feel a bit better knowing that these particular ones are just kind of wonky.

  • Lore says:

    It's not just the footnotes–it's the combination of sticking relevant information in footnotes and then later referring to in the main text (or referring to information he hasn't actually introduced yet) that made me crazy. Yes, one wants to reveal information slowly to build suspense, but there's slow and then there's backwards and…they are not the same thing.

  • Angie says:

    I listened to the audiobook, so I didn't have to deal with footnotes, but that sounds exhausting. I found the story interesting, but infuriating, too. Also, am I wrong that Catholic priests are not commonly referred to as Reverend? Growing up, I never heard them called that. It was "Father So-and-So."

  • RJ says:

    I've determined that my superpower is the ability to ignore the superscript numerals for end notes. I noticed, and checked, maybe the first three or so, and then cheerfully ignored them as I read the rest of the book. If I missed out on anything good, I blame the author.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    You so didn't.

  • Nora says:

    I stopped checking the footnotes when the first of five notes across two Kindle pages contained nothing but Cullen's birthdate, and the fifth the number of nursing students in his graduating class. Don't tell me you can't work that info into the text–they're not even complete sentences!

    The writing did seem to improve significantly when the cops got involved, probably because that's when Graeber stopped writing so much and started dropping tidy audio transcriptions straight into the narrative.

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