Northern Liberties

Rated 4.00/5 based on 1 reviews
A painter can imitate life through his art, but he can also imitate death. Thomas Eakins creates a masterpiece as anatomy labs proliferate, whores and winos vanish, antisepsis appears in hospitals, and the world visits Philadelphia for its 1876 exposition. His painting, The Gross Clinic, evokes a literary vision of beauty, murder, and redemption, blending impasto pigments, medicine, and passion. More

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About Glenn Vanstrum

Glenn Vanstrum’s fiction has been published in LITnIMAGE, the Bellevue Literary Review, and THEMA. His book of nature writing, The Saltwater Wilderness (Oxford), won a San Diego Book Award. Essays of his have appeared in Sierra, California Wild, and the Los Angeles Times.

Vanstrum has written six novels and three story collections. Setting plays a major role in his character-driven fiction, work that often uses nature, music, or medical themes. His novels range from drama (Let Fall Thy Blade; Certain Stars Shot Madly) to historical fiction (Yellowstone, 1876; Northern Liberties) to satire (S.I.C. Memorial). His latest work, Humboldt, a story set among the Northern California redwoods, is part roman noir, part satire, and part thriller.

A Minnesotan by birth, Vanstrum majored in music at Grinnell College in Iowa and attended U.C.S.D. medical school. He has spent most of his life in California, where he practices anesthesiology.

A professional nature photographer, he publishes images in numerous venues worldwide. Magazine credits include Audubon, Sierra, Terre Sauvage, National Geographic Traveler, National Wildlife, and Discover. The photographic stock agencies Animals Animals/Earth Scenes and Custom Medical Stock Photography represent his photographs.

Vanstrum, a pianist from age five, still practices daily and performs works from the classical, romantic, and modern repertoire on a regular basis. A student of Cecil Lytle and the late Nathan Schwartz, he plays both solo and chamber pieces.

The author, a lifelong surfer, has ridden waves in Hawaii, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Bali. Still riding a shortboard, he wipes out with great regularity.

Further information on Vanstrum’s writing, including book reviews; music, including concert schedules; and surfing, including a surf blog; appears at http://www.vanstrum.net.

"Glenn Vanstrum is a force of nature. In addition to being a published author (The Saltwater Wilderness, Oxford University Press, 2003), he is a concert pianist (and regularly performs complex pieces by Beethoven and Mozart in public venues near his home in San Diego), a highly regarded medical doctor, an accomplished surfer, an underwater photographer who has worked around the world, and a dedicated husband and father. Somehow, in this incredibly busy life, he continually produces exemplary works of fiction and non-fiction.

"I've known Glenn for fifteen years. In that time, I have read every single one of his books, and they are uniformly excellent. His fiction is distinguished by fast-paced plots, fascinating characters, amazingly realistic dialogue, and passages of great strength and beauty. His innovative treatment (in Northern Liberties) of Thomas Eakins' painting 'The Gross Clinic' was absolutely brilliant, and his collection of animal stories is par excellence--certainly in the league with such notables as Roger Caras and Ernest Thompson Seton. I just finished reading Stephen King's latest novel, 11/22/63--all 800+ pages of it--and, to be honest, Glenn Vanstrum is a better writer of imaginative prose by any objective standard. He is a powerful, disciplined master of the idiom.

"His non-fiction, best exemplified in the essays of The Saltwater Wilderness, reflects his love for the sea and dedication to the conservation of oceanic resources. In summary, any book by Glenn Vanstrum is worth reading and owning, and I enthusiastically encourage all those who value contemporary literature to explore the corpus--now available on-line in e-books--of this gifted American author. "

--John A. Murray, senior editor, The Bloomsbury Review (1987-present); founding editor, the Sierra Club American Nature Writing annual (1994-2005); former director, graduate program in professional writing, University of Alaska; author of 42 books; recipient of Southwest Book Award and Colorado Book Award.

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Reviews

Review by: Audrey Driscoll on June 30, 2012 :
Northern Liberties by Glenn Vanstrum is a rich concoction of art, medicine and murder set in 1870s Philadelphia. Its unifying element is artist Thomas Eakins’s painting The Gross Clinic. Vanstrum takes the reader into the operating theater and Eakins’s studio, twisting several thematic threads into an interesting and gripping read. He demonstrates an insider’s knowledge of anatomy and surgery, as well as the process of creating an oil painting.

A number of historical themes give this book heft and depth. The primary one is the terrible residue of the American Civil War, which informs the choices of the principal characters, real and fictitious. Another is the transition from primitive to modern surgery that resulted from the work of Joseph Lister. From a present-day perspective it’s hard to believe that the adoption of antiseptic procedures was strongly resisted by the medical establishment, but Vanstrum’s book makes that vividly clear. The grisly business of obtaining corpses for scientific dissection adds a macabre touch to the story.

The dialogue is tense and realistic, the pacing brisk but not dizzying. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. That it provoked me to learn more about Thomas Eakins and Samuel Gross is a bonus.
(reviewed long after purchase)

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