Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ambulance Girl by Jane Stern

Night before last, I stayed up late finishing Ambulance Girl: How I Saved Myself by Becoming an EMT by Jane Stern. It became a TV movie a couple of years after it was published. If you're a foodie, then you also might know Stern's other writing as well as her radio work and her involvement with Roadfood. When Stern reached 52, she was depressed. She was obese (her word). She had lived a life filled with anxiety. She knew she needed a change. After driving by the fire station in Georgetown, CT, and seeing a sign calling for volunteers, she decided to become an EMT. She did something drastically different, something scary. And she did it. As of the end of the book, she's been an EMT for a few years.

It's an impressive story. I think any of us who have lived ordinary lives while also struggling with some inner demons can relate to need for change while also being confused about what that change should be. She does something pretty extreme, something that takes a lot of commitment and effort. Few actually make it, but Stern did. Once you read about the level of anxiety and depression she lived with, you become amazed when she becomes immersed in the life of an EMT.

In terms of writing style, it's not very poetic or flowery at all, which might be her journalism background at work. The structure is very linear. She starts at the beginning and moves to the end. Chapters focus neatly on such things as individual patients. All of this may sound more critical than I intend, but what I mean is that she is not doing anything that is particularly innovative or "literary" in terms of narrative structure or style, but she tells a compelling story. As a writer, I often feel like my creative work is too much "this happened and this happened and this happened." And Stern's narrative shows how that may not be such a bad thing.

At least when the story is as fascinating as this one.

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